We Catholics are well placed to address some of the chief problems on the minds of Portlanders: rising homelessness, trash and crime. Here are three practical proposals.

First, because we hold parcels of land and buildings in almost every sector of the metro area, we could host scores of small and manageable shelters. Ascension Parish in Southeast Portland has just opened a family shelter, with parishioners from The Madeleine assisting. St. Anthony in Tigard also has done this. Well-respected organizations like Family Promise offer templates and support. Volunteers at parishes are hungry to help.

Second, parishioners could tidy up what homeless camps remain. Along the Peninsula Trail in North Portland, one citizen from a Protestant community brings trash bags to campers and asks them to put refuse therein. He comes back regularly with his truck to take away full bags and give new empty sacks.

Third, again because of Catholic ubiquity, parishes could become hubs of neighborhood watch. Early this year, when there was fear of vandalism at Holy Redeemer Parish in North Portland, a volunteer crew brewed coffee, bought doughnuts and occupied the church’s front porch. Teams took regular walks around the premises with flashlights. In consultation with police, this model could work anywhere on every weekend. The patrols could be expanded into surrounding blocks. Lord knows our overextended Portland Police could use a hand.

These acts for the common good would be right in and of themselves. Yet they also would have an evangelizing effect, healing misperceptions some Portlanders have about Catholics. Yes, we have been helping Oregon society for 175 years with our schools, hospitals and charitable ministries. But the church is at its best when it reads the signs of the times and takes timely action. That brings Jesus’ love and compassion to the modern world in a way that touches everyday life.