A beloved SE Portland houseless advocacy and aid program was abruptly shut down after 38 years of service. Due to recent management changes and turmoil with the surrounding community members, the program was evicted in mid-September this year.
For the past 38 years, Pat Schwiebert has been working day in and day out to provide aid for those in need in our community. Her meal program, labeled Hard Times Supper, mainly provided weekly meals for those in need. In the past year or so, John Mayer, a Catlin Gabel teacher on paternity leave, joined forces with Pat, giving her more capacity to expand the program. They added two additional meals per week, more overnight care, writing and religious classes, and a mobile doctor. Amy Kleiner, Principal of the neighboring school Sunnyside Environmental K-8 stated that, “It felt like for me after being there for so long the sense of community was much deeper and folks that went there [to the program] had a really big sense of purpose.” She says she only found one needle on the school grounds this past school year, in stark contrast to the hundreds she’d found in previous years. Kleiner thinks this had to do with the new additions to the program. “As of recent there wasn’t any garbage [in Sunnyside Park], people who went there [to the program] really cared for the space. My theory is that it’s because they had a sense of purpose and a community.” Kleiner says there are regulars from the program who are the “eyes and ears” of the school. They have her phone numbers and have helped her when incidents arise.
So with all of the positive things coming from the advancement of the program, why was it suddenly evicted? Kleiner has a few theories. After attending a Neighborhood Association Meeting, she learned the owners of the space in which Hard Times Supper was held wasn’t creating enough income. They sold the space to Groves Church. Groves Church is a group led by social-justice values. The face of their organization seemed very progressive and liberal.
Kleiner believes this organization’s values do not align with their actions. She attended an open mic session at the church in late May this year. A Groves Church member attended, listening to perspectives from many people in the houseless community. A few days later, in early June, Schwiebert received a 90-day eviction notice for her program. Kleiner thinks this has to do with the Groves Church gaining ownership of the space.
Overall, the closure of the program has evoked many strong emotions. There were two incidents at the park outside of the community house when they were in the process of being evicted, both drug related. Both ended with the death of an unhoused person. Kleiner believes these incidents were a result of the heightened emotions that came with the eviction. Pat Schwiebert also expressed extreme sadness and frustration with the closure, especially since it was right when the program was finally taking off. But while many were saddened by the loss, there were a small group who were very happy about the closure of the house. These were the same people who were calling in to the police, park services, and city councilors multiple times a day, asking for the removal of the program. All of these emotions have been swirling around right now, and Kleiner describes it as a “yucky feeling.”
Schwiebert and Mayer are now trying to start a new program called Beacon PDX, but aren’t having much success fundraising. They hope this program will continue their hard work and help the many people that were left stranded by the closure.