About 10 days ago I attended a breakfast with Mayor Charlie Hales, Commissioner Dan Saltzman, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, and Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith leaders. The purpose of the breakfast was for city and county officials to express their thanks to the faith communities for their operation of warming shelters last year. (I had hoped that Aaron VanRheen, Steve Kimes, Andy Goebel, Josh Duncan, or Derek Beaudoin could attend, since they actually did the work for our warming shelters last year; since none of them could, I was the substitute.) Paul Schroeder of New City Initiative has been actively building relationships with faith communities and with officials in an effort to address poverty and homelessness, and he pulled together this breakfast.
I know our politics are across the spectrum, so I won’t touch any of that, other than to say there were some hard questions asked by attendees during the Q&A with the mayor and commissioner. But I wanted to send out a few notes I took so you could get a flavor of what happened at the breakfast. Christy Dirren and Tom Wehrley were also present, and I’m sure any of us would be happy to give our impressions of what was said, and perhaps not said, by any of the folks there.
Rabbi Michael Cahana from Congregation Beth Israel opened the time, and he referenced a Jewish breakfast prayer: “you, God, open your hand to provide for all the living.” He then focused his remarks on how we are God’s partner to deliver those blessings.
Deborah Kafoury noted that all emergency shelters in Multnomah County are operated through faith communities. I had no idea this was the case. Wow.
Imam Abdullah Efendijah of the Bosnian Educational and Cultural Organization read from the Qur’an and commented on how the passage he read says that righteousness is not looking to the east or to the west but caring for the needy, the orphans, and others.
Reverend Mark Knutson from Augustana Lutheran gave an exhortation (and almost really got going with the preaching!). He talked about how almost all hospitals, universities, and nonprofits come out of faith communities. He quoted Micah 6.8 and noted that we see evidence in the whole of Scripture for doing justice. He specifically cited Genesis 1.27 and Matthew 25. The challenge for faith communities is not just doing justice/providing safety but combining it with hospitality. He also said, “The hardest job in this city is to be poor.”
Paul Schroeder commented that if we are organizations that are supposed to produce public benefit, what benefit are we providing? Is it the equivalent of what the community would receive if there were a business or other organization in our space?
Mayor Hales talked about how his great-great-grandfather was the chaplain for army of the Potomac during the Civil War, and faith has always been part of his family legacy. His mother (or grandmother?) wanted him to pursue the ministry. He expressed deep thanks for all the work the faith communities have engaged in to serve the homeless, hungry, and needy. He also talked about Code Oregon, a program offering free training on software development, specifically hoping that the un- and underemployed would enroll.
Commissioner Saltzman said the county is working on A Home for Everyone, a new 10-year plan directed at housing. He also commented, as an aside, that he has been very interested to watch Mayor Hales’ metamorphosis on housing issues over the past couple years.
Reverend Lynn Smouse Lopez of Ainsworth United Church of Christ discussed race and gentrification issues. She said, “If you are white and upper middle or upper class Portland is a great place to live.” In contrast, if you are middle class or below, or nonwhite of any class, we have a long way to go.
The Q&A centered on gentrification, the urban core, and business development.
Again, it’s an honor to serve you and to represent the churches in North Portland at gatherings like this.