Portland, OR. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Union Gospel Mission (UGM) of Portland has successfully maintained the health of current residents while continuing to provide portable meal containers to the community safely via the front door.
“We shut the inside services down and did safety protocols to keep all of the men inside COVID-free. And praise God, we haven’t had any infections inside,” reported Bill Russell, who has overseen operations of Portland’s UGM and Lifechange – an affiliated service – for over 30 years. The inside game room and evening services at the 3rd-Avenue location are typically staffed by the 30-50 men undergoing residential recovery from trauma or substance abuse.
Adapting services to meet health regulations still comes at a cost for UGM’s bottom line: connection. “It thins out what we do. Our whole philosophy of the program is to care for people in order to connect with people and coach them.” Russell explained. “It’s been harder to build trust with just the food program, to have the conversations and relational building that’s necessary to build trust…The very concept of wanting to get people to connect is really challenged when you have to maintain six feet of distance and wear a mask.”
Establishing this trust organically has always been a priority for UGM’s volunteer “Search and Rescue” team, who normally go out in the community to get to know residents at local camps like “Right 2 Dream”. A second team provides rides to medical and housing appointments the following day if they discover a need.
Russell noted, “A year ago we were moving one person a week out of homelessness into some kind of either program or shelter that led into housing, so there was a pretty good flow. This year, COVID has caused a real lockup on the available places to go. We’ve placed more women with kids out of camps, but single adults have been fairly stuck in place with COVID… It’s really been a game-changer.”
Russell predicts that the economic downturn will generate more need for affordable housing, adding, “We need many more allies.” Those interested can look online for volunteer opportunities or sign up to give monthly.
On June 9th, UGM reopened its thrift store for retail shopping and are accepting donations. Face coverings and social distancing are required to ensure the safety of guests and volunteers, and hand sanitizer is provided throughout the store. UGM has requested that clothing donations be sealed in plastic bags upon arrival.
From the Union Gospel Mission’s website:
FEEDING THE HUNGRY, RESTORING THE ADDICT AND LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR. SINCE 1927.
Union Gospel Mission provides more than 250,000 meals a year to the homeless and people in need. In addition to meals, the Mission provides food boxes, a day room with coffee and snacks, clothing, hygiene items, referral services and emergency cold weather shelter to the homeless.