Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Attackers of the Homeless Charged

This article is found at:

Twin brothers face charges in assaults on homeless
by Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian

Saturday December 27, 2008, 6:18 PM

Portland detectives say a transient woman in her 50s was pushed down this staircase leading to Colonel Summers Park, off Southeast 18th Avenue, in mid-November after she stood up to two men. James and Michael Johnson have been arrested on assault charges related to attacking homeless people at the park.
On Portland's streets, police say, James and Michael Johnson are known as the "Twin Towers" because the brawny brothers are always together and the sight of them strikes terror among the homeless.

Police said they have linked the 32-year-old twins to five unprovoked assaults against transients, all at Colonel Summers Park in Southeast Portland, where they've become known for their bullying and beatings.

"They're always picking on people who are older and frailer. There's no fair fights here," Portland Detective Kevin Warren said. "For the most part, it's just a beat-down. They're just beating people up because they're thinking they'll get away with it."

James JohnsonOne man sleeping on a bench near the park's gazebo was pounded with his own bicycle, police said. Another homeless man who yelled at the Johnson twins to stop the bicycle clubbing was then stabbed in the leg, police said.

One of the brothers last month threw a woman in her 50s down a flight of stairs at the park after she started to question why the pair kept hurting the homeless. A witness who tried to intervene was then assaulted.

"They seem to be able to do their acts with impunity," Warren said. "I've never seen a couple of guys doing serial assaults like this with no apparent motivation ... which got us motivated to find and locate other victims."

Michael JohnsonA Multnomah County grand jury has indicted the Johnsons on second-degree and third-degree assault charges. Since their arrests Nov. 16, they've each pleaded not guilty to the charges. Since the brothers were taken into custody, other victims have come forward, encouraged by the knowledge their attackers are locked up, police said.

Detectives continue to reach out to the homeless at local shelters and church kitchens to determine whether others have been assaulted.

Marc Jolin, executive director of JOIN, a nonprofit agency that works to help the homeless into housing, said he learned about some of the beatings from staffers.

"People who are homeless are often victims of violence because they are vulnerable," Jolin said. "They're outside. They don't have a lot of resources, and they're not always comfortable going to the police and asking for help."

In fact, many of those assaulted by the Johnsons never called police, but were found by officers some time after the attacks.

Court records show a lengthy criminal history for the brothers, dating to when they were juveniles, and prior alcohol, anger management and domestic violence problems. They haven't had a steady address and have been described as transient at times. They have bounced among friends, listing addresses in Portland, St. Helens and Gresham over the past several years.

According to police reports, shortly after midnight July19, a man sleeping on a bench near the gazebo in Colonel Summers Park awakened to one of the brothers pounding him with his bicycle. The homeless man, Jeffrey Paul Mason, 55, suffered a bloody nose and lost consciousness.

When a fellow transient, Charles Vaughn, 42, tried to come to Mason's aid, one of the brothers turned on Vaughn and stabbed him in the leg, according to police reports.

Vaughn told police he limped off and watched the man who stabbed him return and continue beating Mason. Vaughn tied something around his leg to stanch the bleeding. When the bleeding didn't stop after an hour, he went to a phone booth at Southeast 11th Avenue and Harrison Street to call an ambulance. Vaughn suffered a 2-inch gash on his right thigh and was treated at OHSU Hospital.

Vaughn told officers he usually spends his nights at the park and has seen the twin brothers assault others. "I can spot those guys from across the park," he told detectives.

By August, detectives distributed a wanted flier to all Portland police precincts, seeking the arrest of the Johnson brothers.

Months passed. It wasn't until Nov. 16 that patrol officers found the twins at Colonel Summers Park, arrested them and took them into custody on warrants stemming from the July beating and stabbing.

By then, investigators said, the twins had struck again.

In fact, a day earlier, police learned, the Johnsons had attacked a homeless woman who stood up for herself and others at the park. Witnesses told police the twins threw her down a steep staircase on the north edge of the park at Southeast 18th Avenue, off Belmont Street. She was found near the park's gazebo the next day by police making routine checks. The officers found she had a warrant on a minor park violation. They drove her to jail but soon realized she had suffered a recent injury and called an ambulance to take her to a hospital.

The woman sustained a serious head injury, including bleeding in her brain, and was in the intensive care unit at OHSU Hospital for about 10 days, Warren said. "She's fortunate to be alive," Warren said.

Another man who witnessed the woman's assault tried to intervene, police said. That's when at least one of the brothers turned on him. The man suffered facial fractures, a broken left wrist and a cut to his forehead.

"None of these victims would be spoiling for a fight, especially against people who are younger and stronger than they are," Warren said. "It's pretty offensive."

A 35-year-old man who lives on the streets and identified himself only as Jack said he's seen the Johnson brothers in the city for several years. He described James Johnson as the more violent of the two. His brother, Michael, whom friends described as a few minutes older than James, always seemed to come to his aid. "One starts it, and the other one backs him up," Jack said. The twins are each described as 5 feet 7 and 215 pounds, according to jail records.

When interviewed by officers, James Johnson denied any involvement in the July 19 beating. "I never beat up anybody," he told police, "and I never stabbed anyone."

James Lee Johnson has faced serious charges in the past, including a 1995 weapons conviction, a 1998 restraining order in an alcohol-induced domestic violence assault, and a 2004 harassment conviction after police say he spit on an officer. In 2004, court records show, James Johnson was ordered to complete counseling for domestic violence and anger management.

-- Maxine Bernstein; maxinebernstein@news.oregonian.com

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Diane on Wikipedia


Daniel Markoya created this from a pic he took when we were dealing with lice in our house. Luckily, a number of the guys staying with us shaved their heads, so we didn't have to examine them.
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Friday, December 26, 2008

Just Another Nervous Wreck

Okay, so I'm on vaction. But I still get phone calls. And when I get these calls, I can find out about the crises occuring, usually after the aftermath has already occurred. So it was tonight.

Tonight I decide to check my messages and make the phone calls I need to make.

First I get a call from Rhonda, telling me that the group of boys who was supposed to be helping at the meal tonight wasn't coming. That's disappointing, but the main work would still be done. It'll work out.

The next call is from Janette, telling me that they are there at the church where the meal is happening tonight with 2000 pounds of food, but they can't get in. That's not good, but I'm wondering why they didn't call the cooks for that night, who was supposed to meet them.

The next call is from Richard, Janette's husband, who repeats that they have 2000 pounds of food to drop off at the church, and that they called the cooks who said that they are stuck in the snow and can't come tonight. They want to know what they are supposed to do.

I look at the clock. 8pm. The meal is just supposed to be finishing.

So I am on vaction. I am supposed to be taking a break from Anawim and all the stresses. And what I find is that while I might be taking a break from doing the work of the ministries, the stresses follow after me, pursue me like the Hound of Heaven.

I try to call Mike Desario, who was supposed to be helping tonight, and who has the keys to the church, but he's not answering his phone.

Then I try to call Richard back, got through, so I ask him what happened. He said that he drove over to my house, talked to Mike Desario (whom we call "Hammer") who said he'd help him unload. They open the church and unload the food. Then the two of them concoct a plan to have the meal happen as usual. Richard and Janette get hot dogs and buns and Hammer takes the rest of the food and gets it ready. Richard says that Mike really took charge and responsibility for the evening.

As Richard was driving back to the church with the food, he tells me, he was feeling that they needed to open the meeting with the Lord's prayer. He doesn't remember to say this to anyone. But as Mike opens the meal, he leads with the Lord's prayer. Richard sees this as confirmation that the Lord was really in this time.

Eventually Hammer (remember, this is Mike?) calls me. He is exhausted and exhilarated. He can't believe all that had happened today. He said that Richard and Janette showed up at the house and he just didn't know what to do. So he just did it. One thing led to another, and pretty soon, he realized that he was planning and preparing a meal for up to a hundred hungry people.

So he calls up his friend Jesse and asks him if he and possibly some folks from Jesse's Christian community might come over and help. Jesse immediately drops his plans for the evening, contacts about four of his friends and they come over. They help serve and just talk to many of the homeless and mentally ill individuals who were there that night. Then they swept and mopped the floor as Mike finished up in the kitchen.

God, as usual, comes through. Seventy or so hungry people have been feed and ministerd to. All the Anawim crises always end in the most surprising ways, displaying resources that we didn't know God had available to Him. Sometimes these resources come from reserves within ourselves, sometimes it comes from others who love Him and are prepared by Him to serve.

As for me, I had a very brief heart attack, but I'm doing better now. I'm not sure whether to think that I shouldn't have left on vaction this week, as the meetings seem to be going from one crisis to another, or whether I just shouldn't return at all, and let God do miracle after miracle, letting Him get the glory.

Meanwhile, Mike-- as well as Richard, Janette and Jesse and his friends-- has been tested and proven to be precious metal, not dross. I welcome him to the club of the nervous wrecks.

The Garden by Jeff Strong

Here is a section from a journal by Jeff Stong, a regular volunteer at Anawim. You can see his website, which includes his testimony and his journal at:

There comes a time when one needs to confront situations that one is uncomfortable with for the sake of others. My situation is found in the asking of others for financial support. As Yvan and I become more involved in the lives of the ever increasing number of the homeless, the poor, the Mentally challenged who are cast away by the agencies who were created to care for them , by those who have become captives to various substances that were either prescribed for a specific ailment or were a means of escape from a life that was intolerable, we begin to see the people and not the maladies that afflict them. As we listen to their Life stories, their dreams, their hopes, they leave the confines of the box that society has designated for them and they become Family.

They become our older brothers and sisters and in some instances they become our Children. They all have unique and special needs. They know their situations and they have no desire to remain in them. Our Government has spent millions of dollars in projects that deal with the outward or visible part of the problem but not deal with the root which is the spirit.

People are like gardens. Some times their lives get over run with weeds or the ground becomes sterile from pollutants. To make the garden healthy and vibrant you need to clear the weeds and amend the soil and tend to it. That is what Yvan and I are doing, we are weeding the garden and amending the soil. It is a full time job but we have begun to see some fruit for our labors and we have a hope to turn the one or two fruits into a bushel basket of fruit.

Street Musicians

Recently a filmmaker named Mary Ann Benner has done a documentary on street musicians in Portland called "In Plain Sight."

When talking about street people, we need to include the musicians. They are also panhandling, but in a way that is acceptable to our culture. Nevertheless, they have a hard row to hoe, as they do not know whether they will have a good day or a bad one, a good month or a bad one. Will they be able to pay their rent, buy their food? It is all up to the generosity of strangers.

This documentary has one of the long-term Anawim folks as a featured performer. His name is Kevin Wayne (whose secret birth name is Kevin McFall-- don't tell him I told you!), and he has been leading worship in Anawim and at Peace Mennonite Church in Portland since 1999. He is a fantasic musician, and he still plays every first friday of the month at Sunnyside Methodist (SE 35th and Yamhill).

Anyway, it's great that Kevin got this opportunity.

Do you want to see and hear him? Although the recording of him isn't the best-- he usually sounds MUCH better-- the second clip is really good. Check it out at:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Giving Tip #13--Give to Caring Organizations

It is good to give through an organization. There are many organizations out there that really care about the people they serve and really give them hope. However, there are just as many organizations that see serving the needy as just a prospect for making money. Some organizations began well, but ran out of steam. Other organizations do not encourage their volunteers to be kind or loving. Don’t assume that because the organization sounds good on paper that it is good. You have to see it in action, or interview someone who has received benefits from the organization. Again, this takes time. But giving in love requires time, if nothing else.

This doesn't go against the previous tip, to give to people personally. Both are important. To give to a shelter may provide warmth to the person who you gave a nutrition bar to earlier in the day.

Giving Tip #12-- Don't Give Toward Others' Destruction

Giving sugar to a diabetic would not be an act of love, but of apathy or hatred. Even so, giving money so someone can continue a drinking or drug binge isn’t compassion, but hatred. Don’t give to people in a way that would cause them to destroy themselves or others.

In following this principle, I have made it a policy to very rarely give money to people. I found—with myself as with others—that cash is too easily diverted to what is wanted in the immediate rather than what is needed. If someone needs help with their rent—pay the landlord. If someone needs food—give them food, not cash. To those holding signs by an onramp, I have a supply of nutrition bars that I can hand them. If someone is panhandling, I will often ask them what they need and try to provide the need, rather than cash. In this way, we can be meeting the need that we know, not supplying the destructive habit that we don’t know.

Giving Tips #11: Give Out of Concern, Not Self-Interest

Give because you care for the person. Giving is not something we should do in order to gain our own brownie points. We give because the other person has a need. We shouldn’t give because we want them to think well of us. We shouldn’t give because we want a tax write-off. We shouldn’t give because we can’t stand to have them ask. We should give because they need. We should give because we have compassion for them.

Also, let's not give out of guilt. That is one of the best ways for us to give wrongly. That's the time we hand money to someone who shouldn't have it, or just "give in" to whatever demands are being made on us. If we give out of guilt, we haven't considered what is the most loving action to do for them.

On the other hand, we should not fail to give simply because we don’t have the right “feelings” toward a person. Yes, our motivation is very important, but in the end, the person’s need is more important. It is better to give to those in need with wrong motivation, that to stand before the Lord, trying to explain why we never gave at all.

Giving Tip #10-- Give To A Person's Need

Just because someone is socially bound to us—such as a family member or a friend—that doesn’t mean that we are responsible to give every time they ask. Just because a person looks down and out doesn’t mean that they need spare change. We need to find out what the person really needs and then determine what the best way to meet that need. To do this, we have to follow the complicated process of asking questions and receiving honest answers. Sometimes this is easy to do, sometimes this is difficult. No matter what, it is almost never quick. Interview the person you want to give to, and find out what they really need.

On the other hand, just because a person has taken advantage of your generosity before, or because they are in trouble because of their sin, that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be helped this time. We must evaluate the person’s need—not our feelings about them, or our judgements about them. If they are in need, we are responsible to give.

I notice, especially around Christmas time, that people love to give to children. I understand-- there is joy in giving to children and you feel even better if you give to children who are poor. They don't get toys as other children do.

But often the purpose of giving to children is to make us feel good about ourselves, or to help the children "keep up with the Joneses".

But it disturbed me this year and last that people were so generous to my children, going out of their way to generously giving a lot of unnecessary toys to my kids, when there were homeless people on the edge of death because they had no warmth.

The last couple weeks it was difficult to get churches involved in granting the homeless shelter, hand warmers, gloves, coats, etc. But giving unnecessary gifts to kids who already have their needs met was easy.

It just disturbs me.

Giving Tip #9: Take Time to Think

Giving in love often requires some preparation ahead of time. Don’t allow anyone to rush you into giving without you thinking about it first. Take time to consider what you are going to do. If you meet people on the street asking for change, you might want to have energy bars available on your person. If you want to give a large amount for an organization, take time to find out more about the organization. Just like we shouldn’t impulse buy, we also shouldn’t impulse give. Take your time and consider what the best thing to do is—not the quickest.

Be Compassionately Wise!

Reverse Economics

The media has been coming out in droves, lately. The Portland Mercury did a short piece on Anawim and then a longer one on Diver, one of our folks. NPR interviewed Jeff Strong on "Day to Day". And now the Oregonian is doing a piece on Anawim. It's time for our 15 mintues, I guess.

But one of the more popular questions we've been asked is how the recession has effected us as a ministry. Has it been harder to get donations? Has our economic outlook been bleaker since the recession?

First of all, officially, the U.S. has been in a recession for a year, according to official channels in Washington D.C. See here: http://www.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idUSTRE4B05YX20081201
So we would have to be talking about our economics over the last year, not just the last few months. And I would say that in general, ministries to the homeless and the working poor have really been struggling, somewhat over the last year, and certainly now. I just heard about a homeless shelter who lost a large grant due to the economic downturn, and we will see a lot more of that. I note that the government bailouts are all going for the big industries, but not to the homeowners losing their homes. Charity begins at the executive level, I guess.

But the fact is, Anawim has been doing really well this year. We called for more donations in order to rent a large facility two days a week, and people have responded. God has stirred people's hearts to grant money to us so we could (just barely) pay the 500 dollars a month so hundreds of people a week could have a meal and a warm place to worship God and learn about God's word. We've been getting more people this year-- a LOT more people. But we've been able to meet all these needs without care. Every week, we have just enough food and space to meet all the needs.

This can be attributed to two things:
First of all, God's amazing provision. Because we depend on God for our supply, He knows what we need and provides it. No doubt that Matthew 6:25-33 is alive and well, if we would just rely on Him.

But there is another aspect as well.

You see, Anawim isn't a ministry to the homeless and the mentally ill. Rather, we are a community OF the homeless and mentally ill. In any community, we share resources, and assist each other. And, as in all communities, the greater the base of those sharing resources, the more resources are available for all. Thus, we are doing well because more people are ending up on the street. The more people who feel that they really are Anawim-- those desperate for God to grant them provision-- and that they are really a part of the community of the poor who has responsibility not only to recieve but to give, the more resources we have to share to all.

Nope, none of us individually have very much. We are all poor. But the community of the poor is a sharing, giving community. Thus, the more poor there are, the better off the community of the poor is.

Blessed are you who are poor, says Jesus, for yours is the kingdom of God. And the economics of that kingdom is visited upon earth among the poor who follow Jesus' principles of giving to the poor.

Excellent Photo of Diver

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Discussion on Diver

Posted by el cubano on December 12, 2008 at 1:11 PM

I just wanted to share something- while this might be hard to talk about, I wanted to ensure that it's not impossible. I'm 25 years old and I'm a year away from graduating at PSU- when I was younger, I had an addiction to drugs that lasted a few years and was homeless for a while as well- couch-surfing and whatnot if not sleeping out of my own car while I was trying to get a job that would scrounge up enough money to be able to afford rent in the L.A. area.

I was lucky enough that I had some family support, although I had to move all the way across the country to Miami to be there to get it. I had heart palpitations and was having all sorts of health issues, including trying to quit smoking to be completely clean. While I'm certainly not perfect now, I've definitely turned my life around and I know that I can stay clean, healthy, and happy- but the will definitely has to lie with the individual and they absolutely, positively have to leave whatever life they had behind in order to move on to a better one.

It's a shame, but it doesn't look like Diver has gotten the support he's needed to be able to do that, since he apparently felt a connection to those people in Gresham in that lifestyle again. It hurts to not have family support, and to not have good friends who are willing to help you through those dark times and won't bring you down. I hope he can pull it together and make it, and as for you Sarah- believe me, it's possible!

Posted by Steve Kimes:

Sarah, first of all, I really want to thank you for your article, and for your update of Diver here. It must be hard to correct a good story, even if you didn't write anything wrong. Ankles and I give you an honorary "breakfast pie" piece for your excellent effort.

But also to respond to El Cubano above. Diver has all the support he wants, if he wants it. Either from his mother, or from our community, which is a strong family, complete with arguments. We all want him to succeed in being clean and in living a positive life.

But there is another community that pulls at him. A community that encourages him to endulge, not really understanding that it means his death and it cripples him spiritually. And he's lived in that community for as long as you, El, have been alive. It's hard to surrender a whole life and begin a new one. We who have done it keep going back to the old life until we are really ready to surrender it.

The road to freedom is different for different people. The reasons for addiction are complex and the solutions can be even more complicated. Chronic homelessness is even more complex still. There just isn't a single answer-- sometimes not even for one person.

But I am confident of this. Diver has left before and returned. When it is time, he will return.

Sarah Mirk's Update on Diver

Holy Diver Update
Posted by Sarah Mirk on Thu, Dec 11 at 2:39 PM

The subject of the feature in the paper this week is a guy named Holy Diver who I met riding his bike up Alberta a few months ago. I've been working on the story for a while and it's strange to see it in print now because the situation has changed a lot since I began reporting. When I was hanging out with Diver in November, he was living at a Christian commune in North Portland run by a progressive pastor named Steve who wanted to provide some of his parishioners a place to sleep besides the street. More than that, Steve's house was trying to be a supportive, clean, liberal community to help homeless people get off drugs and alcohol. Creating a strong community of clean friends is key to helping guys like Diver. Here's a quote that didn't make it into the final article:

Cleaning up and turning Christian hasn't been easy. It meant leaving behind a tight-knit community of like-minded vagrants, who still live in camps in Gresham where cops are less likely to move them along. "Out there, I'm like a celebrity, kind of," Diver laments, "There's that sense of love and camaraderie I never had growing up until I became part of this homeless community."

So during the time I spent with him, Diver was genuinely excited about his clean-living lifestyle, his new found faith in God and the luxurious availability of showers and an indoor bathroom at the house. He was linked up to email, helped care for friends with the items he found in dumpsters and and even took up commenting on our site. When I stopped by the house in late November to take some more photos, Pastor Steve answered the door and said Diver hadn't been back since he last went out riding around town with me. That meant Diver was back into the addiction cycle, back out in Gresham and back to the homeless life. I was afraid he'd dropped off the face of the known world but, lo and behold, Matt and I ran into Diver while attending Pastor Steve's shower ministry in Gresham a few weeks later. He's physically fine, but, yes, back into the life he was once enthusiastic about leaving behind.

To me, reporting this story really hit home that real life addiction stories are not the uplifting stuff of Lifetime specials. Getting out of a lifestyle built around addiction is complicated, rarely goes according to plan and remains hard for peoples' entire lives — even if they have God on their side. I'm pulling for Diver and people like him to have the kind of life they want but, honestly, reporting this story has made me I question if thats sometimes just impossible.

Diver Makes News!

Diver is one of our Anawim folks, and you get a little bit of insight on the community house as well.

Posted in the Portland Mercury Blog:


Dumpstering for Christ
The Holy Diver Digs for a Living—and Meaning—in Portland's Trash
by Sarah Mirk

Monday morning as the sun rises; Hammer, Ankles, Pastor Steve, and Holy Diver are sitting on sofas in their North Portland living room, eating a concoction called breakfast pie and discussing the Bible. Breakfast pie includes bacon Diver found in a dumpster weeks ago and stashed in the freezer. Diver is a lifelong dumpster diver and on-again-off-again drug addict. His current drug of choice is Christianity.

After the Bible discussion (which is short, frank, and pleasant—Pastor Steve, who doesn't wear shoes, is a minister to the homeless), Diver gets his bike in order and then, while the rest of Portland is just waking up, makes his daily dumpster rounds. He's been scrounging a living from Portland's trashcans for 20 years. But unlike most people who have lingered in Portland's back alleys for that long, Diver is still mentally sharp enough to explain all that he's seen.

"There are three things I've never found in a dumpster," says Diver, now 41 with a weathered face, short gray hair, and bright eyes. "A crying baby, a dead body, or a working handgun."

Diver's bike trailer rattles behind him as he pulls onto N Williams—he welded the trailer together himself and now it's loaded dangerously high with about 300 glass bottles and cans. "Dime!" he says, swooping down into the gutter (a car veers out of the way) to scoop up two old beer cans.

The first stop of the day is a North Portland assisted-living facility, where Diver delivers a hard-boiled egg to a schizophrenic friend. The friend doesn't eat much unless someone stops by to encourage him and the whole egg-delivery routine is part of Diver's new Christian approach to life.

"I want to help other people, I feel like I have a gift, through God, to provide for other people," says Diver. Digging through Stumptown garbage, Diver finds food and clothes for Pastor Steve's entire little homeless ministry commune, where Diver, Ankles, and the others sleep rent free as long as they stay off drugs.

"If it's all about just me then I don't really have a lot of ambition. I'm happy with a book, a sleeping bag, something to eat, a clean pair of socks. But there's nothing better than finding something that someone else threw away and saying, 'Hey, I know exactly who this is for.'"

The egg hand-off goes well. During the rattling ride from North Portland to the Lloyd Center, Diver explains that before he got saved and all that, he dumpstered for meth money. It was a completely different rhythm. He rode fast and dug desperately through trash, staked out territory and sold whatever he could find.

"There's lots of illegal things in dumpsters. I've found enough marijuana to fill a MAX train," he says.

Diver crosses NE Weidler and rolls down into the vacant, grimly fluorescent parking lot under the Lloyd Center Safeway. This is where the can redemption machines live. They're big metal boxes that crunch aluminum and shatter glass, creating a ruckus before they print out a tiny receipt Diver can turn in for cash.

"It smells like a kegger gone bad," Diver laughs, sorting his trailer trash as he launches into a string of numbers that defined his life for many years.

"It takes 400 cans and bottles to buy a $20 bag of speed. And it turns into a monster at that point, because you do a $20 bag of meth and get high and your whole mission is to find 400 more cans to get another bag of speed, etc., etc. It's vicious," he says. "It's rough. It's a rough life. I'm so glad that's not part of my equation anymore."

Diver's parents were addicts, too, he says. They moved around a lot, settling early on in a cheap Los Angeles apartment complex surrounded by a cinderblock wall.

"I was an introverted kid, I spent a lot of time by myself. I used to walk around that wall, just daydream or whatever, and it looked down on this huge dumpster. One day I looked down and it was full of cool stuff—Vietnam memorabilia, a chemistry set. I brought that stuff home and was hooked ever since."

He moved to Portland when he was 20, and for a couple years he got clean and made good money as an unlicensed electrician, owning a five-bedroom house and a Cadillac.

"Before my name was Diver, it was Caddy," he says over the roar of shattering glass.

For a while after that, he slept out in Gresham with a tight-knit community of homeless people and was a "Satanic crackhead" before getting into a rehab program at Central City Concern. He wound up at Pastor Steve's after relapsing.

"To say that I have 100 percent faith in what the Bible says and that Christ is my savior—I would have never ever thought that. I've been through the whole gamut of being atheist, Satanist, drug-addled. But I consider myself an intelligent mammal and I think I've evaluated all the information correctly."

The Safeway machines won't accept all his cans, so Diver heads inside, claims his $5 or so, and then rides out again toward the Hollywood Fred Meyer. He stops at some dumpsters on the way. Some are "nickel dumpsters"—ones that usually just have cans—while others are known for their occasional gems.

"Let's check this goodie box right here," he says, pulling into the parking lot of a convenience store that shall remain nameless. "I found six pounds of weed in this dumpster once!" Diver reaches in, pushing aside last week's tabloids. No drugs today, but he seems elated at what he does find: "A perfectly good cup of soup!" he shouts, victoriously waving a chicken-flavored Cup-O-Noodle.

Diver prefers the low-income areas of town to the affluent suburbs, even though the Southwest has the best dumpster loot. Among the richer communities, his trash picking garners at best indifference—and sometimes hostility. In North and Northeast Portland, he says, cafĂ© workers on smoke breaks will point him toward the best bags. Like Freegans—anti-consumerists who salvage food—and others who occasionally pick through trashed Whole Foods produce or old Hotlips pizza piles, Holy Diver sees his dumpstering as a political act.

"If I recycle or renew this much stuff in one day, I think that's amazing... I'm doing a service to humanity whether they like it or not," he says. "It would hurt capitalism if everybody just waited until the FDA-regulated date came up, the food had to be thrown away, and everybody just got it for free."

Fred Meyer takes most of Diver's remaining bottle load—his trailer is empty and ready to be filled with food and assorted treasures. He climbs up a tall cargo dumpster in the grocery store parking. On the right days, this dumpster is filled with flowers. Today it's empty, except for a few light cords he eyeballs at being worth $20 to metal scrappers.

"That's a hit of speed right there," he says, shaking his head and climbing down.

Behind the bar Club 21 on NE Sandy, Diver finally hits a goldmine: giant bags of pasta sauce and nacho cheese, expensive organic cranberry juice, piles of canned food, and, inexplicably, two "build your own gingerbread house" cookie kits. It's enough food to supply the next homeless ministry movie night. He gleefully loads the goods into his trailer, smokes a cigarette and turns around to ride home again. It's 11 am and he's done working for the day.

Biking the wrong way up the sidewalk on NE MLK, Diver says, "I don't believe in working for someone else, making minimum wage. I don't believe in paying rent my whole life. In fact, I could do without money completely."

He pauses for a moment, and then adds with a sheepish grin, "...If I didn't smoke cigarettes."

Special Needs, Special Rules

First posted in MennoDiscuss in response to a discussion on the question: "Should we have lower expectations of obedience for those with special needs?"

Now I'm going to throw a wrench in the whole works.

My congregation is perhaps 75% mentally ill. I don't know what that says about me as a pastor, but I do know that we are a lot more flexible than other churches. For instance, I allow people to talk back to be during the sermon. This is partly because the folks get interested enough that they can't help but respond. So that's okay. But, at the same time, no matter how mentally ill someone is, I don't allow the conversation to be a free-for-all, where people are talking over each other.

Nor do I allow arguments. However, should there be an argument, I hold the more mature (read: mentally capable) brother to be responsible to back down. If they persist in the argument, then I ask the more mature brother to leave, even if they didn't begin the argument.

The church is also for the homeless, who are uncomfortable with a church where people dress well, because they can't match it. So the rule is casual dress in our church. Thus, if someone shows up in a tie, I politely ask him to take it off for the sake of the brothers.

The church runs well, although considerably different than one's run of the mill congregation. But since we are a congregation of the homeless and mentally ill, it SHOULD run different. And I will say that while the middle class isn't very comfortable in our church, for the homeless and mentally ill, they are able to develop community and call it home.

Thus, I guess, I create a different context for those unable to follow the rules, and then make everyone follow the new rules.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Honestly, we at Anawim don't usually get into shelter that much.

Shelter is expensive, requires staff and requires rules that we don't usually want to get into.

But this week, we got permission to open up a warming shelter in Gresham for a few nights. It was necessary because the weather in Portland was in the teens (a number of degrees below zero). This may not seem a big deal to most of you guys, but here in Portland, such weather is unique, and no one is prepared for it, even the homeless. So we need to provide shelter for people or they will die.

I found someone who died of hypothermia. It's not pretty.

Anyway, so we opened up a shelter for the first few nights of the crazy weather Portland is still having. I guess a local tv station interviewed someone we were able to help and he said we saved his life.

On the first night, someone snuck up to the excluded part of the church and took a crow bar to the office. He didn't get in, but that's not the point. It was difficult for us to get the church because of the fears some of the church leaders had about the homeless. And now we might question that we might be able to use the church for this again.

But I know two things about this kind of situation:
1. Just because we help people, we can't require them to be grateful or respectful. The point is, we need to save lives, even if they stab us in the back. That's what Jesus was about, so that's what we need to be about.

2. We can't paint all poor people, or all homeless or anyone with the same brush. Most of the people we helped those nights were grateful and helpful and polite. One person who is hateful and hurtful shouldn't stop anyone from helping. Nor should it give us an idea of what all homeless people are like. To do so is to participate in the very worst kind of prejudice.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Giving Tip #8: Consider The Receiver

The best gift in love is the gift where the giver considers specifically the person they are giving to. We know that our gift is well received when the person responds, “How did you know?” It shows our care and respect for the other person when a gift is specifically suited to their needs and wants.

This is the same for the poor. If a person is homeless, you want to think about their situation and give something that is suited for their situation. A pair of socks is more welcome for most people on the street than a four person tent (where in the city would someone put up a four person tent?). A mentally ill person might appreciate a video rather than a book of crosswords (although, I know a couple mentally ill people who love crosswords, so you don’t always know). A street person wouldn’t have anywhere to plug in an electric razor, but they could really use a nice blade razor with a pack of fresh blades.

We just need to think ahead and make the gift suitable for the person’s situation and need. This is why it is often good to ask before we give, if it is possible.

Giving Tip #7: Don't Put Rules on the Gift

The fact of the matter is, when you give something, it isn’t yours anymore. We all recognize this, so when we receive a gift, we will use it in accord to our best interest. This is why when Aunt Rachel gives us another orange knitted sweater, we try to find some unsuspecting person to pass it on to. It isn’t Aunt Rachel’s anymore, and what we do with it is our business.

This is the same with our gifts. When we give to someone else, it’s theirs to do with as they please. If they want to sell it, that’s their option. If we give them money and they do something with the money we don’t find appropriate, that’s their business.

But we do find ourselves being offended if a person uses our gift in a way that we would dislike. So we might be tempted to put a rule on the gift: “Don’t do this with it”, we might say in passing. Please don’t. It insults the person you are giving to, as if the worst case scenario was what they had in mind all along. And if they do use it that way, then they would feel bad if you saw them again.

The time to consider what a person would do with a gift is BEFORE you give it, not as you gift it.

Giving Tip #6: Make Small Talk

As you give,take time to chat with the poor. Talk about the weather, ask them how they are doing, offer them luck or a prayer. Just by being positive and hopeful, you can improve a person’s life and make the well-being of everyone better.

How is this so? One of the greatest difficulties of poverty is isolation, feeling left out of society. A homeless person, a person with AIDS, a jobless person, a mentally ill person often feels that they are no longer a part of "normal people", that they have been left behind. They feel that they aren't as "worthy" as the people they see driving their cars.

To have a normal conversation with someone who has felt outcast makes them feel a part of humanity again, as if they belong. Again, this may seem like a small thing, but it can change the attitudes of the poor. And if the attitudes of the poor change, especially toward "normal" society, then they act different and eventually attitudes toward them will change as well.

Giving Tip #5: Small Gifts That Make An Impact

Carry in your car items that you can give to the homeless that will make a small, but significant improvement in a homeless person’s life:
o Hand warmers
o Socks
o Bags of granola
o Nutrition bars
o Water bottles
You can give these instead of money to those who hold signs or beg and know that your gift is going to meet a need.

To have more examples of this, check out Anawim's website:

Sisters of the Road by Casey Neill

This is a great song by Portland local, Casey Neill. Although his songs travel around the world, speaking out the stories of those who wouldn't otherwise be heard, he wrote this one about the situation of many street folks here in Portland. Sisters of the Road is a cafe for the street, where you can pay a buck or so for a meal, or you can wipe down some tables for it. The song can be purchased on iTunes or other online spots. Here are the lyrics, but you really need to hear it to get the full impact:

Rain falls relentless on these streets, chill you to the very bone
it's coming down tonight in Portland town and folks are warm inside their homes
Trina she came from Missouri, after her mother passed on
to get away from her old man who needed someone to take it out on.
So she took up with the crusty boys in their fingerless gloves
her in the Oregon streets she found a family again to love
and they dumpstered their food, snuck into the shows, took what
shelter they could find
never once did she regret leaving the life she left behind
your friends become your family and lighten a heavy load
with Abbey and DC Louise she was a sister of the road

Trina fell for a punk named Silver from Southern Illinois
who'd been living on the streets of the West COast since he was a 13
year old boy
he knew every free meal in Stumptown, every dry place to keep warm
and he'd take her to 'em when the darkness fell and they'd lie in each
others arms
Silver hustled now and again in the backs of drunk mens cars
scars ran up and down his arms like the tracks in the railyards
when he'd offer it to her, you know she never once took it
beneath the I-5 viaduct his teeth clenched to a tourniquet
one day the cops found his body by the train tracks where he'd hop the
line to Frisco
But for the last year of his life, he loved a sister of the road...

Trina found her way up off the streets and works in a clinic downtown
all the kids she used to know well she never sees them around
but there are more where they came from cast aside and left behind
walking down a lonely street and strung out on the line
for the old hoboes, the migrant laborers, the lost and wayward teens
there's a place where a buck twenty five will get you a plate of eggs and beans
and there is nothing like a cup of coffee when the winter winds blow cold
you can find them down in old town on 6th, the Sisters of the Road...

The Working Poor

I was asked on a survey about my experiences with the working poor. This was my response:

How much space do you have?

I have been working poor since 1997 when I quit my job and started living on donations. However, my children have never gone hungry, even one meal, nor have they had to sleep on the street. God has provided for us, and now even a house and our daily food, although we often eat food from dumpsters-- but not filthy food.

I have seen people who don't want to beg and so they look for cans to recycle. They may make 30 dollars a day for working five hours in independent recycling.

I know of some people who work for phone sales. They get hired in one place, work for a few weeks or months, get laid off and then they have to look for work again. They never get enough to get an apartment.

I know of others who are on disability at about 500 or so dollars a month. They try to work as often as they can, but their physical or mental disabilities don't allow them to work for long, so they soon have to quit or they get fired. Eventually they find another job.

People who live on the street all want to work. Everyone is looking for work to do. But they have mental or physical or social limitations that don't allow them to work as long as they would like. I know of some people who look for work, but then they have an attack from their mental illness, and they are unable to work for two days to a week after that. They can't hold down a job like that.

What people on the street and some folks on disability need is work that will be flexible with their situation. Work that will allow them to take off and who will help them to fill out the necessary paperwork. Not just a day labor place, but a social assistance project that gives people work as they are able to work so they can make more income than they currently get-- even if they don't have enough for an apartment.

A Bad Week for Jerry

Jerry is a regular at Anawim, on the street, riding his bike with a trailer in the back to make it easy to collect recylable cans for his daily income. Last week he had a stroke and ended up at a local hospital "up on the hill". They checked him out and told him that he needed surgery for his condition. However, because of his lack of insurance and lack of home they wouldn't offer him that surgery. So they sent him on his way, limping with half his body moblie but injured, unable to ride his bike, many miles away from his camp. He was so angry at them he didn't bother to ask for a bus ticket, so he started down the dangerous route down the hill, where there are no sidewalks. Finally, someone had mercy on him and put him on a bus for free.

He had his friends help him get around, do some recylcing for bus tickets and he visited about four different hospitials until one finally agreed to do the surgery necessary for him to live-- Providence Hospital in Portland, if you care to know. We prayed hard for Jerry that he would make it through okay with God's help.

They did the six hour surgery last night and Jerry is doing fine. Praise God, and thank God for the compassion of some.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Rev. Jeff Strong of Anawim

NPR, on their show Day to Day, just broadcast yesterday an interview with Jeff Strong. Much to my surprise, this reputable news organization announced that the Rev. Jeff Strong was running Anawim Christian Community in Portland, OR!

Of course, I was glad to hear this, so I immediately wrote Jeff to let him know of the things that he needed to do as the new head of Anawim-- including finding a number of volunteers for some meals coming up. And I also wrote him, "If you wanted my job, all you needed to do is ask!"

It is a good interview, dispite the one minor error in reporting and you can hear it here:


By the way, this NPR broadcast was also refered to by Christianity Today's News Feed.

Ah, this would be so great for my humility, if only I could stop laughing about it!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Giving Tip #4-- Don't Ask Where The Homeless Live

If you’ve got homeless folk, they may not be able to trust you thoroughly, or just not be sure. So one of the rules is just not to ask where they live. If they tell you where they camp, that’s fine, but don’t ask. It is technically illegal to be without a house in almost all urban areas, so it’s a difficult thing to answer.

Giving Tip #3-- Be Generous

No, the person does not deserve our gift, that is true. None of us DESERVE gifts, or else it isn’t really giving, it is paying back. So if we are going to give, we might as well go “whole-hog” and give in a generous way. Heck, if we’ve got it, then we should share it!

To be generous is not just to encourage someone to be gluttonous or a freeloader. Generosity meets an entire need, if possible, and isn’t stingy. It communicates a care for the person in need more than the process of meeting the need. Generosity also provides the best available to give, not just the lowest quality.

The Scripture says that God is generous, and we see this in His providing us all food, sometimes richly granting our need beyond what we can ask or think. We should be like God in our generosity to others. If God has been generous to us, we should act in the same manner to those in need.

Giving Tip #2-- Be Friendly

Even if we were giving a million dollars to someone, it is ruined if we treat the person we are giving it without respect. We should be friendly to those we give to and so make the gift fully charitable. No matter how the giving meets a need, a grudging, unfriendly gift is never welcome. But to be kind to a stranger, not just giving, shows that we love them.

Portland Mercury Article

One of the edgiest of the "Village Voice" newspapers in Portland, The Portland Mercury has written an article on Steve and the Anawim meeting in Gresham on Saturday. Here it is, in all it's glory. If you want to see the original, with the pic the author took of Steve, check it out here:


In the Shadows
Socks, Showers, and God
by Matt Davis

Steve Kimes is not your typical minister. When we first met last Saturday, November 29, with his fulsome beard and his casual felt hat, I almost mistook him for one of his congregation—90 percent of whom are homeless or mentally ill. No offense intended.

Kimes, along with his wife Diane, started the Anawim Christian Community in 1995, listening to the stories of the poor and disenfranchised in Portland and Gresham. They now run regular services at Anawim and at the Peace Mennonite Church on NE 196th and Glisan. And on Saturday mornings in Gresham, they run "shower ministry." I was in attendance on recent Saturday where roughly 30 people had shown up at 11 am for hot Spam, chicken soup, and pasta, a chance to exchange their dirty clothes for clean ones, and a free shower. Later, they would also pray—but we'll come to that.

One of the odder effects of a free clothing exchange is that people tend to wear things that fit them—not clothes that necessarily reflect their personalities or passions. The results can be disconcerting.

"I'm not a gun man at all," says Danno, a gentle old fellow wearing a Smith & Wesson T-shirt featuring a cobra coiled around a shotgun.

I see a man walk past in a Broncos hooded top, and someone else emerges from the shower wearing an Epcot Center jersey. I decide against football and Disney World as introductory topics of conversation.

"You're not a cop, are you?" asks Jimmy, who approaches with wary menace, wearing a baseball cap with the Confederate flag on it, and the word "Rebel" embroidered on the brim. Rather than ask Jimmy whether it's true or not, I decide to take his cap at its word and tread carefully.

"I'm a journalist," I say. "Here's my card."

After taking it to a far-off table and considering the card for a minute, Jimmy returns to shake my hand and apologize.

"I just feel wary about anybody sitting in the corner, taking notes," he says.

It's not surprising. From talking to others in the congregation, the general consensus seems to be that the cops in Gresham are less tolerant of the homeless than those in Portland. Jimmy estimates he's been "moved along" more than 100 times over the years, and says he's been told to go "anywhere on the other side of 162nd"— meaning, toward Portland—by a cop.

Apart from different attitudes toward law enforcement, there also seemed to be more of a sense of family, community, and self-sufficiency among the homeless I met in this unlikely church, east of the I-205, compared to the atmosphere at many of the homeless service providers I've been to in Portland. Kimes has undoubtedly worked hard on fostering this feeling.

"Jesus," I say, when Kimes tells me how many homeless people in recovery he's currently got living in his house. (Answer: More than a few, but Kimes would rather the total not wind up in print.) Then I realize I've blasphemed in his presence and apologize profusely, because the guy is dead serious about his God.

As I leave, Kimes is booming out a hymn called "Holy Is the Lord" with a heady baritone and no musical accompaniment, apart from the enthusiastic voices of his assorted congregation. Having admitted to me earlier that the work can involve battles with depression—Kimes has officiated a funeral for each of his 13 years, but only one wedding—I can't help but be impressed by his ability to continue with it, no matter what the motivation. And I'm not normally one for religious fervor, either—but in Kimes' case, it appears to be working.

Perhaps there's a Christian T-shirt in his exchange box, somewhere, for me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Hobo Museum

Found in Mental Floss:

If you’re bumming around but looking for a good time, be sure to take a load off in Britt, Iowa, at The Hobo Museum, which details the history and culture of tramps. Bear in mind, though, that the museum kind of, well, slacks on hours and is only open to the public during the annual Hobo Convention. Luckily, tours can be arranged by appointment any time of year. Of course, if you’re interested in the Hobo Convention, lodging is available all over the area, but it’s a safe bet that most of your compatriots will be resting their floppy hats at the “hobo jungle,” located by the railroad tracks. Both the event and the museum are operated by the Hobo Foundation, which—incidentally—also oversees the nearby Hobo Cemetery, where those who have “caught the westbound” are laid to rest.