The Magic of HOMEpdx: A Street Church in Portland, Oregon (Mar – Apr 2009)

By Matt Dabbs

by Pam Hogeweide
March – April, 2009

Giving Up Sin for Lent“What’s up? Are we getting drunk tonight?” asked the disheveled looking young woman as she sauntered to the small group huddled around the bench.

It’s a cold Thursday night at Pioneer Square in downtown Portland, Oregon, but least it’s not raining.

“May I have another burrito?” asks a skinny teen. “Not ‘til seven o’clock,” answers Ken. “Let’s make sure everyone has had one first.” The teen nods his head in polite agreement.

The MAX light rail pulls up. Another group of street youth head over as if coming home in time for dinner. “Hey Ken, how’s it goin’?” An instant party takes shape as more people arrive.

Ken has been doing this for seven years, coming downtown every Thursday night with bags filled with gear to help those who live outside be a little more comfortable.

The crowd has gotten bigger, tripling in size to more than twenty young people within minutes. Worn out backpacks are plopped down on the cement as people stand around chatting “It’s a middle-class thing to be able to enjoy hot food,” Ken tells me later. Every week he heats up store-bought burritos at home and then wraps them in foil, layering them in a box insulated with towels so they’ll be oven hot when he passes them out.

I stand back, listening to the friendly banter between street kids and Ken and his team. “I haven’t touched heroin since May,” says one guy who looks to be barely 18. “That’s great,” Ken tells him in a fatherly tone. Behind us a girl is cussing someone out with the most colorful usage of the F word that I’ve ever heard. No one even flinches.

Two police officers walk their beat. When they stroll past us, a tense lull falls over the group.

An older man walks by. As soon as he is out of earshot a young guy leans in and says, “He gives me the creeps. He’s always inviting me to his apartment.” The harsh reality of sexual predators cruising among Portland’s most vulnerable is suddenly within my view.

The crowd starts to thin out. Ken and his team linger. Conversation is the most important thing they give away. “We do magic tricks by making the invisible visible,” Ken often says. “When we pay attention to our friends without houses then they began to appear to themselves.”

That sums up the ministry strategy of Ken Loyd, pastor of HOMEpdx, http://www.homepdx.net/ a church that strives to reach the most marginalized people of the city by simply paying attention to them.

April Fool’s Day, 2007: The Quiet Birth of a Church {HOMEpdx}

Ken moved to Portland with his wife Deborah in the late nineties and together they planted a rowdy little church called The Bridge. http://wwwthebridgeportland.org/ He eventually began to feel drawn to downtown Portland. Ken says it took him two years of thinking about it before he finally ventured to Pioneer Square, a central area of the city that is frequented by many young travelers and homeless people.

It didn’t take long for him to realize that this was what he was made to do. Every week, year after year, he has been going downtown to hang with his friends who live outside. “I don’t do anything special,” says Ken. “When you love someone, you want to be around them.”

Ken began to invite street kids to come check out The Bridge. He hoped that his friends who lived outside would find an embracing community within his church.

Over time, it became apparent that though The Bridge was supportive of Ken’s ministry, even enthusiastic, that the formation of true community between street kids and The Bridge was not gelling together.

“It always seemed like there was some kind of weird invisible wall at The Bridge with the downtown kids, and Kelly and I agonized over it all the time, and so did Ken,” recalls Brian Peterson, who together with his wife helped launch HOMEpdx.

They knew they were in when Ken announced, “I want to start a church that’s all about them, and not about us.”

Within two months Ken resigned from The Bridge and formed a church plant team. On his last day at The Bridge he said, “We don’t have a clue what we’re doing. But we have a dream.”

On April Fool’s Day, 2007, HOMEpdx had their first public gathering under the Hawthorne Bridge near downtown Portland. Ten people showed up.

Nearly two years later, HOMEpdx attracts more than 100 people each week whether they’re meeting outside, rain or shine, or in a rented fellowship hall during the cold weather months.

How to Become a Legend by Doing Nothing Special

It is my opinion his tattered edges are what make him so approachable to those of us he is reaching out to. When you listen to him there is a chance you would be shocked by his coarse language. He does not speak this way for shock value or for lack of being able to express himself, he does so because it is the language of those who he brings the Message of Christ to. Don’t for one minute believe this goes against the message he carries.
-Mike, aka PDX Urban Outdoorsman http://pdxurbanoutdoorsman.wordpress.com/>

Mike is an older guy, who found himself homeless due to the loss of his livelihood. He is not an alcoholic. He is not an addict. He does not suffer from mental illness. He has a story that is all his own of how he went from being a person who lived indoors to a person who lives outdoors. And now Ken and HOMEpdx have become a part of Mike’s story as their lives intersected on the streets of Portland.

Ken recently spoke to a class at a local Bible college. Without any notes in front of him, Ken spoke from the vastness of his experiences..

“The stereotypical view is that a street kid is a rebellious youth who is refusing to do what their parents ask of them. But I’m guessing that maybe two to five percent are in that category. It’s not typical. This is the mythology,” Ken told the students. “It is our privilege and responsibility to be able to love people face to face,” said Ken. “I have been told, ‘You’re the only people who listen to us.’”

When Ken first began connecting to those who lived outside he often wrestled with fear. Not fear about violence, but fear of rejection.

“I remember one guy. He sat there all dressed in black, skull patches and spikes everywhere. He looked intimidating. I was afraid he would reject me. But I sat down and stuck my hand out and said, ‘Hi, I’m Ken.’ ”

He says, “I know who you are. You’re the old punk. Everybody knows you. You’re a legend.”

Ken was startled. How did he gain this status by befriending the invisible few who live outside in Portland? All he mostly did was hand out socks and conversation.

“I became a legend by doing nothing special,” he concluded.

No Us and Them

It’s a dry, cold Sunday afternoon. About 100 people are gathered inside the fellowship hall of a downtown church. In winter, HOMEpdx rents this hall for a few hours each Sunday. Warm conversation simmers around the room as table captains fill trays with heaped plates of home cooked grub to serve to their respective tables. The gentle clanking of busy forks harmonizes with the calm piano music that HOMEpdx member Jeremy provides for the group. If one were to close their eyes it would be easy to imagine being in a restaurant.

Ken stands on a five gallon bucket. Clad in a black jacket covered with patches he looks more like a pirate than a preacher. The room settles down as he begins speaking.

Ken Loyd“This is effin’ insane,” says Ken as he begins his sermon, HOMEpdx style, meaning it’s short – less than ten minutes – and it’s gritty. Swearing is not offensive in these parts. The F word is indigenous to the street tribes HOMEpdx mingles with. It has become their dialect, too.

Ken wraps up his short message with a heartfelt benediction. “Jesus is worth exploring. I love you guys, and Jesus does, too.”

Sunday gatherings at HOMEpdx are a blending of meeting the whole need of the person. New socks are distributed, small toiletries, fresh coffee is available and partnering churches provide and serve an afternoon meal. Afterwards, Jessica Roye, Ken’s co-pastor, leads the finished diners in a game. “It helps to play Bingo if you’re not drunk,” she announces, “otherwise the numbers all look the same.” The room roars with laughter. Here, at HOMEpdx, drunkenness is not reprimanded, but is acknowledged with good humor. It’s a reality of street culture.

Scott: Finding Friendship in HOMEpdx

HOMEpdx has developed into a faith community of normals, addicts and career alcoholics and others who live in the invisible outdoors of Portland. There is no expectation for anyone to change. It is this fierce acceptance to love people no matter what that sets the tone at HOMEpdx. Like the Sunday when Jessica was helping a young woman get some clean clothes. Her syringe fell out on the floor. Jessica handed it and her drugs back to her.

She would later write,

Many would say that I am enabling her to continue a habit that might destroy her. But I believe that I have a responsibility to make real, lasting relationships. My friends who live outside live in constant judgment. If I have the desire to be safe for them then I must do what Jesus has done with me and meet them exactly where they are. Sometimes, like today, that will mean that I do things that scare me.

Scott, originally from Florida, has benefitted from this radical commitment of love and acceptance. “Ken became my friend, bent over backwards to help me with anything,” says Scott, a forty-something year old former addict. “And he never asks for anything in return. I never had a friend like that.”

Scott was a high-functioning meth addict for many years. He had a good job in construction and managed to keep his addiction under control. All that changed when a medical crisis forced him out of his livelihood. He left Florida and eventually landed in Oregon. “I lost everything,” recalls Scott.

Being homeless and without hope, Scott went deeper into meth and alcoholism. Someone invited him to go to HOMEpdx. About this time Scott reconnected to his teenage daughter. He had not been a part of her life since she was little and now he wanted to nurture and protect the revitalized relationship. He knew that his addictions could destroy that. “What the eff am I doing?” he remembers. “My daughter has come back into my life.” He didn’t want to lose her again.

Scott walked into a treatment center asking for help. Within days he was admitted. That was about eight months ago. He’s been clean and sober ever since. The timing of connecting to his daughter and HOMEpdx has served to help Scott rebuild his life. “These folks have helped me keep my chin up. Their love and Ken’s help has been there for me when I felt like no one else was there.”

From Portland to New York City

After a year of service Brian and Kelly left HOMEpdx to replicate the ministry in New York City. Exactly one year later to the date of their departure, The Porch was born. Meeting outside at the East River Park, Brian and Kelly operate by the same philosophy as Ken. “We have been given a love that is irrational, a love for people who are at best ignored and at worst hated,” writes Kelly and Brian at their blog. (Click here – http://141nyc.blogspot.com/ – to read.)

Within a short time the couple realized that the culture of street life in New York City is different than what they’d previously known. “Squatters and travelers are quite easy to see in Portland. In New York, they are literally and physically invisible,” writes Kelly and Brian. “They have to be, because in a city of conspicuous wealth and consumption, symbols of poverty and rejection are not allowed.”

Ken goes downtown with socks and burritosVivian Brocato, another founding member of HOMEpdx who now lives in southern California, stays in close touch with the HOMEpdx crew as well as Brian and Kelly. She joined HOMEpdx, in part, because her sister had been homeless. “She was a tweaker,” explains Vivian. (a tweaker is slang for meth addict) “But nothing prepared me for the smell. The true scent of homelessness is like nothing else. But like Kelly says when we’re away from it too long, we miss the smell.”

Magic Tricks

It’s Thursday night again. Ken and a few others head to Pioneer Square with large bags stuffed with hoodies and socks. “What if it’s raining?” I ask. “Do you still go downtown?”

“We are utterly relentless,” says Ken.

A few young people are hanging out at the favored bench where Ken shows up each week. Burritos are handed out; socks are given away; the magic trick of God’s love making the invisible become visible. This is HOMEpdx.

Photo Feature:
HomePDXNew Wineskins

Pam HogeweidePam Hogeweide is a freelance journalist who specializes in feature writing on themes of faith and progressive Christianity. Her articles have appeared in numerous online and print publications. She has written and blogged extensively about Ken Loyd and HOMEpdx. Pam lives in Portland, Oregon and is working on her first book about the sexiness of being small. You can access her blog here http://www.godmessedmeup.blogspot.com

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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