Tag Archives: Downtown Chapel

Vial of Life: Helping save lives at the Downtown Chapel

By Stacy Brownhill, Staff Writer

How much good can a small red pouch, zip tie and sheet of paper do for someone living on the streets? Turns out, a lot.

Downtown Chapel is pioneering an innovative, potentially life-saving program for medically vulnerable people experiencing homelessness called the Vial of Life program. It’s actually an adaptation of a nationally established program used by people who have homes, applied now to those who do not.

Homeless participants can fill out a one-page sheet listing medical illnesses, prescriptions, emergency contacts, allergies and blood type, stuff it into a red plastic pouch no bigger than an index card, and attach it to their backpack. The “vial” provides an easily identifiable, relatively reliable record to emergency personnel, and Downtown Chapel keeps a copy in case the original is lost.

Since June, around 40 homeless individuals have participated in the Vial of Life program at Downtown Chapel, meeting one-on-one for a few minutes with volunteer nursing students from University of Portland who help them fill out medical information and even call pharmacies if there are questions about prescriptions.

Reviews by participants have been “over the moon,” says Andrew Noethe, pastoral associate at Downtown Chapel who is overseeing the implementation of the Vial of Life program in collaboration with parish nurse Sharon Christenson. Participant Michelle says she recommends it to other friends on the street who have seizures or diabetes and thinks there should be “a lot more awareness” about the Vial of Life program. Continue reading

Foot care program at Downtown Chapel brings dignity and relief for people sleeping outside

by Cassandra Koslen, Contributing Writer (Photos by Jennifer Jansons)

The custom of washing another’s feet was embedded in the cultures of ancient civilizations as an act of hospitality and necessary cleanliness. For obvious reasons, the health of one’s feet can judge the wellbeing of the body.

For those who live outside, disease and fungus are a constant threat in the Northwest winter. Calluses erupt from always walking and wearing shoes. Sores develop and nails may become ingrown.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper, as an act of humility and gesture of service.  Every Wednesday morning from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., volunteers emulate this act by caring for the feet of those in need in the basement of Portland’s Downtown Chapel.

Pink towels form a pathway between two rows of facing chairs where the soaking takes place and three nurses’ stations where the real work happens. The room smells fresh and clean, everyone seems happy, relaxed.

“Washing a person’s feet puts you truly below them, it is an act of kindness with much human symbolism,” says Andrew Noethe, pastoral associate at Downtown Chapel. “Your perspective of a person changes.”

The foot care program began with a parishioner and his wife who asked church staff if they could wash people’s feet as Jesus did. Because they were not health care providers, only a washing was offered.  Today, a team of registered nurses volunteer medical care while others handle filling sterilized tubs with fresh soapy water for the initial soak.

Sharon Christenson has been volunteering her time and services as an RN for almost six years. She originally came with an interest in foot care to keep busy after her retirement. In the beginning she traded weeks with the program’s founding couple. When they could no longer volunteer, she says, she began coming every week.

Sharon is a small, older woman with glasses and a big smile. Pretty blue earrings bob as she talks, simultaneously grating the calluses off an elderly diabetic man’s left foot.“I feel blessed to provide a service you can’t get anywhere else with RN expertise,” she says. Continue reading

A fitting new beginnning

Father Steve Newton outside the Downtown Chapel Roman Catholic Parish. Photo by Israel Bayer

Fr. Steve Newton joins the Downtown Chapel with a past
reflected in the community he now serves

By Joanne Zuhl
Staff Writer

Oct. 25, 1975. It is probably the most important date in Father Steve Newton’s life.

More important than the day he was ordained – April Fools Day, 1989, a fitting twist he’s rather proud of. It is more important than July 29, the date he arrived to become pastor at the Downtown Chapel Roman Catholic Parish of the Archdiocese of Portland. The former pastor, Fr. Bob Loughery was headed to a new assignment at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend.

Oct. 25, 1975, was the day Newton took his last drink, the final draw after a decade of alcoholism that took him far away from the church, his family and his life — and ultimately brought him back again. It is an experience he credits with keeping him from becoming a “nice-guy priest.” Which is probably best for a parish in the challenging and dynamic neighborhood Old Town, where the Downtown Chapel opens its doors daily to a community living with homelessness, addiction and little or no health care.

“The experience of going through the rest of the progression, and the experience of going through recovery outside the priesthood, I think is a wonderful deepening experience — to hit bottom,” Newton says.

Continue reading

Downtown Chapel opens space for mothers in the sex trade

Painting by Sherry Lynn Dooley

By Amanda Waldroupe, staff Writer

Portland’s first and only drop in center for mothers involved in human trafficking, prostitution and other forms of sex work began on Saturday, May 15.

The drop-in center, called Our Mother’s House, is located in the basement of the Downtown Chapel, a Roman Catholic parish in downtown Portland. It offers a meal, hygiene items and access to resources and information for the women and their children.

More importantly, says founder Brian Willis, it offers a space for community and the chance for mothers involved in sex work to meet other women like them. Continue reading

We want our 30% set aside, already!

Sisters Of The Road, Street Roots, Downtown Chapel, Community Alliance of Tenants, and the Western Regional Advocacy Project hosted a vigil late this afternoon on the site of the North Macadam development, block 33, to mourn the loss of the 400 units of housing that were slated to be built for low to middle income families. Read more about the loss of the 400 units.

Father Bob Loughery from the Downtown Chapel gave a reading of the last rites to commemorate the loss of these units in South Waterfront.

The Portland Aerial Tram with a cost $57 million dollars hovers over six newly built high-rise condominiums coming at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Not one affordable housing unit has been built in the high-end neighborhood. This comes at a time when downtown inventory for affordable housing continues to decline. And when 211 Info is reporting the highest call volume for foreclosure assistance in its history.

Street Roots and others have not just been sitting on the sidelines whining , but instead have been offering in-depth reporting on a myriad of ways to create alternative revenue streams.

Housing levy

SR explores affordable housing options

Why aren’t we paying better attention to homeless deaths? Dignity, and revenue streams potentially await.

Read more about the 30 percent set aside.

Posted by Israel Bayer

Remembering our friends who have passed

Also read “The streets claim lives every year. Why aren’t we paying better attention?”

Calling each other to a place of hope, rather than fear

Oct. 28, 2008

By Sally Martin (from the Oct. 17, Street Roots) 

Not too long ago I came across the story of Vedran Smailovic, the “Cellist of Sarajevo,” who became famous for his artistic protest during the Siege of Sarajevo, Bosnia in 1992.

Smailovic felt called to take a stand after 22 of his fellow countrymen were shot to death while waiting in a bread line. He chose to play in the bombed-out ruins of The National Library at 4 p.m. sharp for 22 consecutive days, to honor each person who died as a result of sniper fire that day.

From time to time I wonder about this man: Why did he choose to do this? What makes a man, who is surrounded by fear and violence, decide to fill a space with beauty? What kind of courage does that take?

I’ve been thinking of Smailovic these past few days, as the arrival of cooler weather and longer lines for our services have produced a feeling of slight panic among those we see here. Because of the recent financial crisis, Americans from all different income brackets are grasping the reality that folks in our neighborhood have been facing for months: times are tough. This has been the reality for anyone who visited The Downtown Chapel for a food box this summer when, during the food shortage, we were extremely low on basics like rice and cereal. And the reality for any of the 90 people who visited our Hospitality Center this morning – normally the first few days of the month we see no more than 60 guests. In times like these, our challenge as a community becomes this: How do we call each other to a place of hope rather than fear?

Sometimes I forget that the world outside of our doors is one in which it is often the survival of the fittest. Earlier this week, this world entered our lobby when two of our guests got into a dispute. I was quite shocked to see that they both had makeshift weapons on them; one had a screwdriver that he was swinging around, and the other was clutching a stick defensively. These are two of the most gentle, timid souls I’ve come across in a long time, the last men I could imagine harming anyone. It then dawned on me that these men were the most likely to have weapons, because they are two of the most fragile folks out on the streets. Due to various mental health issues that they both live with, it is understandable that the reality they are interacting with at any given time might be drastically different from what is actually happening around them, making them more vulnerable as targets of violence.

We can do everything in our power to work together to create a safe, drama-free, peaceful place within our walls, but we have no control over what happens to folks once they leave us. To me, it is nothing short of a miracle to witness someone who must constantly be in survival mode begin to feel comfortable again in their own skin. Even if it is just for a few short moments while their feet are being washed here in our Hospitality Center, or over a cup of coffee at Sisters Of The Road Café, or while being served a meal at Blanchet House. I am constantly blown away by the simple, yet powerful act of a person turning to hope instead of to fear, of reaching out to others around them, instead of retreating into isolation. My heroes then become the woman who, after being assaulted and having her belongings taken from her yet again, has a smile for me when she asks me how I’m doing, and the man who shares his dinner with another who would otherwise go without, because he knows that he is just as unsure of where his next meal is coming from. The only thing that I can put a name to that makes acts like these possible is love. St John of the Cross once said, “Where there is no love, put love and you will find love.” I am convinced that we must answer the call to put love where we find hate and hope in those places, within us and around us, where fear resides.

Sally Martin is the front office manager and pastoral assistant for The Downtown Chapel of St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Parish in Portland.

A pitch for tents

Is Portland ready – or willing – to create another tent city for the homeless? Reporter Amanda Waldroupe takes an in-depth look at the politics surrounding another tent city, or what some individuals on the streets are calling a “green zone.”

We look at Dignity Village eight years after it’s formation. How is the village fairing? What is life like right now at Dignity? Are people being housed? You might be surprised.

Other features this week include opinions from the Mental Health Association of Portland, the New Sanctuary Movement and a look at poverty and justice with Father Loughery with the Downtown Chapel.

Our sister paper in Argentina spends a day talking Che, life as president and politics with the Bolivia’s first indigenous leader, Evo Morales.

Street Roots catches up with homeless youth outreach worker Dennis Lundberg, and looks at lessons to be learned on the 75th anniversary of the New Deal.

You’d be crazy not to pick up a Street Roots coming out tomorrow.