This past Sunday, we were privileged to host Reverend Connie Yost, a community minister affiliated with First Unitarian Church, Portland. In addition to speaking in our service, she offered a two-hour workshop detailing what poverty looks like in Portland and in the US. The statistics are horrifying; the number of people even here in Portland, who are below the Federal poverty line is overwhelmingly high – especially when you realize that so many of those people are children. [Connie will be sharing her slide presentation with us, so if you missed it, or if you want to refer to some of the statistics she shared, you’ll be able to conveniently do so.]
I’m sure many of us already knew many parts of her presentation. And even without knowing the numbers, we know that poverty and food insecurity are very close to our doors – both metaphorically and actually. It is the question she ended her presentation with that I have been carrying since Sunday. What are we going to do about it? Not what are you as individuals going to do about it, or already do about it; but what is Eastrose going to do about it.
There are some things we already do. Some of us bring food in for Day Break Shelter, one of the many services of Human Solutions. We’ve been doing this for a very long time, yet I wonder how many of you don’t about this. We are also longtime supporters of Snow Cap, a local charity that just celebrated its 50th year of providing services for people living East of 82nd Avenue in Multnomah County. Once a year, through our Sharing the Bounty program, we give ½ of the cash collected from our Sunday offerings for one month to each of these programs. But I wonder, is that enough? Our there more ways we can be a supporting congregation? Would it make sense to visit these programs, involve our families with kids, get to know some of the people involved? And there is another organization that works with kids in foster care – many of them, I’m sure from families deemed below the federal poverty limit – right in our backyard- their offices are in our house. Perhaps you don’t know that Eastrose owns the house that abuts on the southwest corner of our property, behind the salon. We are grateful to rent it during the week to Kinship House. Do you know about them? Would you like to visit? We support them from our Sharing the Bounty program as well. I wonder if there’s more we can do to support their work.
One of the aspects of our annual auction – scheduled for March 17 next year – is a fundraiser, called a lightning round – for two organizations in our community. Our auction committee works diligently to identify organizations that could benefit. Perhaps we’d like to help the committee by doing more research on organizations that are directly serving the most vulnerable within our community.
And, of course, we also have the homeless folks who have been using our property at night to sleep, do drugs, and leave huge mounds of trash. What organizations serve these folks who, according to Sgt. Mike Amend of the Gresham Police Neighborhood Enforcement Team, are primarily suffering from mental illness, addiction, or both? We know what we have to do to keep our property safe and we have a wonderful group of volunteers who are involved in those efforts. We also know that offering them direct services is not an effective way to support them. So besides making sure they know our boundaries, what can we do? We do have some referral agencies and individuals who serve them when possible. But who is providing services for them in Gresham? Is there a way we can be of service with those organizations?
Finally, there are the agencies and organizations who are working on political and social solutions, for instance the Interfaith Alliance on Poverty, which Reverend Yost mentioned, and the Oregon UU Voices for Justice, under the direction of Reverend Katie Larsell.
Any of us can work on any of these issues through any of these agencies and services, and for the most part, that’s how UU’s do social justice – somewhat invisibly. But we need a new model that maximizes our congregational resources, allowing our message to have the highest impact.
You can start this conversation by responding to this blog. I want to know what you think, and I’m looking forward to seeing the conversation take us into a shared ministry to those most in need on our doorsteps, in our house, and in the neighborhood.