Monday, January 31, 2011

Hands Raised

At Anawim, every Sunday and most Tuesdays, we have a worship art table. This is an opportunity to worship God through one's creativity during the worship time. If you click the label below called "Anawim Art" you can see a selection of art created at Anawim by a variety of people, some homeless, some mentally ill, some middle class.

Riders In The Sky

Made at the Anawim Art Table.

Woman On Your Corner

Made at the Anawim Art Table. By Yvan.


Made at the Anawim Art Table. By Margaret.

Oregon Landscape

Made at the Anawim Art Table. By Faithwalker.

"And I Saw Heaven Opened..."

Made at the Anawim Art Table. By Yvan.

Angel with a Funky Halo

Reminds me of Icarus. Made at the Anawim Art Table. By Yvan.


Made at the Anawim Art Table. By Margaret.

In The Middle of All This Crap

Made at the Anawim Art Table.


Made at the Anawim Art Table. By Beth.

Love One Another

Made at the Anawim Art Table.

Ocean Armchair

Made at the Anawim Art Table

Galaxy Strip

Pond of Color

Art made at the Anawim art table.

Light Amidst Shadow

Art created at Anawim's art table. By Yvan.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Gresham Underground Emergency Shelter: Our Story

In the Portland area, it has been a cold, long winter. Since late November, there have been more freezing nights than is usual. For those of you in other parts of the country, you may be saying, “It’s been below freezing all winter for us!” But since here in the Willamette Valley we are used to milder temperatures, most people are not prepared for a more severe winter. And if the homeless and homeless services are not prepared, then there are the possibilities of hypothermia, and even death due to being unprepared in the cold. Anawim has tried to be prepared. Since Thanksgiving, Anawim in Gresham has opened for 13 nights to allow people on the street to get out of the freezing, windy weather to stay in the warmth and safety of our Sanctuary’s fellowship hall. SE Anawim has been open 5 nights in our facility in Portland. There are already city shelters in Portland and Gresham and they are very helpful in saving lives in the most severe weather conditions. However, if, say in Gresham, there is a night that is 27 degrees with a 10 mph wind, the city won’t open their shelters, even if there is the possibility of snow. We opened our shelters with the idea that we would keep the homeless safe from the worst weather, only when the city shelters weren't open.

Recently the city discovered that we were opening our Gresham shelter (which we called the Gresham Underground Emergency Shelter, or GUESs), and the Fire Marshal came to visit. The fire code in Gresham, currently, has a few requirements that we have difficulty meeting for a shelter, such as a sprinkler system with a central alarm, and a limitation of 200 square feet per person. They gave us a one night leave so no one would have to sleep out in the freezing rain and then came the next day and shut us down, until we are able to work with the city.

Now we have a quandary. If we accept all the city’s limitations we would not be able to open on some of the nights of the worst weather. Since we have a requirement from the Lord to love the needy, especially those of our own group, then I have a hard time telling our folks to go out in the snow or freezing temperatures when we have the capacity to help them. Or we could try to meet all the fire code and then we have the freedom to help maybe 15 people in our building (we’ve been hosting as many as 30). Please pray as we work with the city and do our best to love our brothers.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Summin' USA

This is a part of our Anawim newsletter. If you'd like to read it all, check out our newsletter blog, HERE

If you'd like to receive our newsletter every other month, give me an email and we'll put you on the list:

Most people don’t know that we live in a third world country.

I don’t mean that ALL of the United States is the third world. But there is a third world section of our nation. We have people who live in slums, in desperate poverty, without adequate shelter or food. There are people who starve in our country, people who freeze to death, and people who live in tents. And on occasion people who live this way need help to live. Sometimes people need food to live to next week. Sometimes people need shelter so they don’t freeze to death. It would be better if they had the means to take care of this themselves, but sometimes relief work has to happen to save lives.

Right now, Anawim is providing a lot of food to those who otherwise might not have it. And we are providing clothes, sleeping bags and tents, to those who have no other means to get it. We really would like to provide a means for people to help themselves, and in time we will. But in the meantime, sometimes lives must be saved.

I was concerned the other night when there was freezing rain. We had two sixteen year old girls in our facility and the city was talking about shutting us down. The last thing I wanted to do was to send those two girls out in the freezing rain to fend for themselves. They didn’t shut us down that night and we were able to help them.

But there were other nights we weren’t able to help. We had freezing temperatures and we weren’t able to open overnight because we didn’t have enough volunteers to help. We had people with not enough clothes because we didn’t have enough people to sort what we already had. We also had volunteers losing sleep (literally) because we didn’t have enough volunteers to share the load equally.

I guess what I’m saying is that we could use some help. Live, in person help.

Below is a list of areas we could use some volunteer work. If you could help in any of these areas, if you are local and think you can do this, please do.

Lives are at stake. Please, this is serious.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Questions Without Answers

Today I was closing up the overnight shelter and we had a discussion about whether the shelter will be open tonight. "It depends on whether we get volunteers or not." A., a 16 year old homeless girl, exclaims, "I'll volunteer!" And R., a newly homeless woman asks, "How do you get to be a church volunteer anyway?"

I try to explain the difference between a volunteer from a middle class church and a street volunteer, and how that works, and it all sounds pretty weak. Socially, what is the difference between us anyway? There are good reasons to have both a street volunteer and a middle class volunteer running each shelter, which I will explain in another post, but its easier to explain that to the middle class than to those on the street. Because, in the end, I'm saying that those on the street aren't good enough to take care of themselves. Mind you, if I don't have a middle class volunteer, the night is more likely to have problems, but the intellectual rationale sounds pretty awful.

In the end, why do any of us get something better than another? Why am I in the place I am?

Why is it that after the night shelter, I drop of a half dozen folks to sit in the bitter wind for an hour and a half, waiting for the soup kitchen to open, while I drive back, in my heated van, to the warm church I just drove them away from, check things on my computer and take a hot shower. Mind you, I really needed that shower because I haven't had one for almost two weeks, but that's not the point.

The point is that last night after opening up the shelter, I hadn't eaten dinner and so I could go to a local place and eat a grilled chicken burrito, while they were making brownies from a mix that was so old it was flat.

The point is that I get to sleep in my bed every night under the covers, but those on the street wait for me to make the decision whether the overnight shelter will even be open at all. Who am I to have the power of life and death? Am I so arrogant to think I deserve this, that I am better than anyone on the street? No. I am not.

So it is God who put me in this place, while many worthy people on the street have to sleep in the cold? I'm not saying that there aren't unworthy folks on the street, but there are certainly worthy ones, just as there are people warm in houses who deserve to be on the street. Is this God's justice? Is this humanity's decision? It is simply the way things are?

Damn. I am not satisfied with this. Not at all.

Why is it that I spend money on myself, my own desires, when I could be getting them hand warmers to keep them warm for a day? Why is it that I am helping to run the church, but they don't really get a full say in the operation of it. If they did, they would have it open to them every night all winter. At least. And who am I to say that it can't happen that way?

We who help the homeless or the needy in any part of the world are just so arrogant, unless we set aside our middle classness and become one with them. I can say, "If I were on the street, I couldn't get them a place to sleep when the nights are worst". True. But why aren't I getting them a place to sleep every night? Why, when the winds are frigid and no one could bear to have it against their skin for even a few minutes that I can choose not to have them be out of it. And sometimes I make that choice because I "have" to. I'm not really any better than anyone else who withholds goods from the needy.

I can keep saying, "Next year it will be better." Really? We've made a lot of progress, but we should have made more. Why must we insist that homeless people be homeless? And we do insist, as a society.

Churches-- which often remain empty five days a week-- don't let them in. I suppose because keeping their carpets clean and the heating bill down is more important than Jesus' command to help the homeless.

They are kicked out of abandoned houses that no one is using.

Businesses don't want them sleeping in their doorways, what little protection that offers, as if they are going to lose customers in the middle of the night. "Oh, I see this store lets the homeless sleep in the doorway when they aren't open. I won't shop there again."

The police move the homeless on from public property, or even private property where they are allowed to stay. And then they'll tear up their camps or bedding, just to let them know they aren't welcome.

There are places for the homeless to be, but we have made a decision, as a society, to not allow them to be housed.

And I, and everyone who helps the homeless are complicit in that. Yes, we have our programs, our ways of helping. But if we get a salary for it and we don't use our salary for the homeless we are frankly a hypocrite, a paid flunky for whoever pays us to ease their collective conscience. Every one of us who focuses on our own desires instead of meeting the greater needs are a part of the problem.

Yes, I know there are answers to this morally, but I choose to wallow in this guilt a little bit. And I would recommend that to everyone to made it to the bottom of this post. Wallow in that guilt. Maybe it will encourage just one of us to buy some hand warmers or socks instead of going out to dinner once. Maybe it will encourage just one of us to keep a homeless person with us for a night, and realize that it wasn't so hard. Maybe it will help us realize that programs aren't the answer-- we are. Maybe one more church will open up their doors to the homeless.

Or maybe I'll get just one more person to stay with my folks overnight, so they can have one more night in a warm place.