By Nancy Tannler
At a poignant farewell dinner last month, Pat Schweibert addressed some of the hundreds of people she has served over the past thirty-eight years. These people are the unhoused – to many, the untouchables – but to Pat, “I see you as the lovables.”
Schweibert is one of those behind-the scenes people who are making a difference in this world.
It began in 1981 when Portland was in a deep recession and the “new poor” were starting to emerge from the once middle class.
The Lincoln Street United Methodist Church tried to reach out to these neighbors by serving a weekly Hard Times Supper, but they never came, instead the houseless did.
It wasn’t long before their numbers grew and there wasn’t room to serve everyone. Sunnyside United Methodist Church stepped up and offered the use of their basement and kitchen. This space became known as the Sunnyside Community House.
“Our aim was to create relationships, not to be institutional,” said Schweibert, who has been cooking meals here since they began the program.
They provided a weekly meal with most of the food provided by the Oregon Food Bank and through donations.
Another essential of the Sunnyside Community House was that it provided a place for people to shower and wash their clothing.
Schweibert spoke of how important it is for people without these facilities to have someplace to get clean. This service was offered free of charge.
Her compassion for both the housed and unhoused was evidenced in how she spoke to the crowd of admirers – from both walks of life.
One compelling thought she expressed in her parting words was for people to imagine how hard it would be to get ahead if you didn’t have a good place to sleep, to keep your belongings safe and dry, a place to eat regular meals, a place to bathe and have a toilet. The unhoused are robbed of all privacy.
Schweibert explained that the perception about people living on the streets is what needs changing. “It is hard to remember that this person was once some one’s child, and they don’t want to live this way.”
Her best advice is to be respectful, look a person in the eye, listen to their story, talk less and try to put yourself in their place.
The Sunnyside Community House was open Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Saturdays, 1-4 pm and Wednesdays 1-7 pm with a community dinner. Anywhere from ten to twenty volunteers from neighborhood and local churches participated too. “They wanted to be part of the solution.”
John Mayer, codirector for the past two years, has been an integral part of the scene. If he or Pat were at the Community House working (no matter what time), they would open the doors for anyone to have a bowl of cereal or a cup of coffee or to take a shower.
He reassured people that his new position as director of Beaconpdx.com (an outreach program for the houseless), will keep this community together until they can find another space.
There are rumors as to why Sunnyside United Methodist Church decided to close the Community House, but Schweibert just said they were asked to leave.
As this story is being written it is a rainy day and in speaking with her, she is already concerned about her “peeps” fate.
“Who will watch out for them, who will take them in out of the cold?”
They are hoping to find a place before it becomes cold.
Anyone who wants to help or needs help can contact: John Mayer 503.382.9607; firstname.lastname@example.org or Pat Schwiebert 503 706 6583; email@example.com or go to beaconpdx.com
Checks can be made out to Metanoia Peace Community UMC and mailed to 2116 NE 18th Ave Portland, OR 97212.