My name is Pastor Jeff Logan, and I’ve spent several hours nearly every Thursday for the past five years hanging out with the homeless on the streets and in the shelters of Portland. With all the news coverage of the troubles in Bayside and the difficulties in siting a new shelter, I thought it would be helpful to write a snapshot of some of my encounters on a very typical winter day:

Today started out in the single digits with the wind chill. I saw a couple of clandestine transactions on street corners, which is always disheartening, so I decided to put off going to the Preble Street Resource Center and just walked over to the Oxford Street Shelter to see who might be outside by the gazebo.

As I arrived, I met a new guy. He asked who we were, and I told him, and he asked if I had a coat. His was thin and inadequate for the cold. I went back to my car and got him a nice Dickies coat that was on sale at Walmart. I think he was frankly amazed when I came back. He said the coat felt like a blanket, and he was so pleased. He said he’d pay me back, but I asked him just to pay it forward, which he promised to do.

And just like that, the day turned around.

Finally got over to Preble, and gave out gift cards, socks, gloves and hoodies. Folks were darkly amused that Walmart has already transitioned to swimsuits and that all the thermals are gone.

Of note: A guy I know pretty well (but whose name I’ve forgotten) was caught on tape breaking into a car and stealing a gun and some ammunition magazines. This is bad enough, but because of a bunch of operating-under-the-influence convictions, he’s a felon. He’s been offered 15 years, and his lawyer thinks that if he doesn’t take it, the feds will get involved and he could get what amounts to a life sentence.

All of his crimes – old and new – are the result of his addiction. He has never harmed anyone and never used violence, and the theft of the gun was to sell it for drugs. He knows that he’s been a serial screw-up and he should do some time, but we both talked about how treatment is the only thing that is going to turn his life around. Five years with a detox program and counseling and he could be a new man when he emerges.

On the altruism-in-the-face-of-desperation front, a guy had asked me for a sleeping bag and a tent, both of which I had in my car. But then another gentleman, one who usually has a cat on his shoulder, told me that he’d been robbed of all his stuff, including his sleeping bag, and that he’d been forced to leave his cat with someone he didn’t trust. When I said I didn’t have a bag, he was disappointed but philosophical.

When I was walking down to my car with the first guy to get him the tent, I told him I’d also gotten him a sleeping bag, but that there was somebody in an emergency situation, and could he wait another week. He didn’t hesitate for a second: “Yeah, of course, if it’s an emergency. I do need it, but I get what that’s like.” You just never know where generosity will arise.

I left the street after a couple of hours and went to see a transgender woman who gets around by wheelchair and sleeps outside. She recently had surgery to amputate one foot and half of the other from frostbite, and she’s having follow-up surgery to graft skin over the amputations. In spite of all that, she continues to be upbeat and positive, and even tells some really bad jokes about having lost a foot and a half in height.

The good news is that they are going to fit her with a prosthesis to help with transition from wheelchair to bed or toilet, etc. She gave me one last jibe about my having a bad hair day, we grinned at each other, and I headed for home.

A day like so many others out on the streets of Portland.

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