Rick Birkel
Rick Birkel
" Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassionately on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.   " St. Teresa of Avila

Nearly every person coming to Catholic Charities of Oregon for help is in the throes of a traumatic loss — of home, family, health, income or well-being. They are frightened and vulnerable, sometimes numb and confused, and that is most often where we meet them — in a dangerous, fearful and confusing place where hope is absent and the future looks bleak.

Continuing on that journey requires strength and courage — and is fueled by the compassion and accompaniment of strangers. Salada and her family arrived in Portland as refugees in need of stable housing and support to begin again. With the help of Catholic Charities’ Resident Services and their new community, they were able to find that same resilience to rebuild their lives at Kateri Park.  

Our secret weapon is this: We have learned that because God wants us to enter into relationship with him and with our neighbors, he uses the crises in our lives, together with our capacity to share experiences of pain, loss and loneliness, to open us to one another and to build community. This learning is precious and cements our faith and commitment to continue to welcome those most in need. Because in these encounters and relationships, in our shared vulnerability, we experience God and his grace waiting.

Jesus taught us that the world is changed through relationship and love, and that living in community requires that we share one another's burdens. This is the heart of our work.  We are guided by simple principles garnered from decades of encounter and accompaniment of the most vulnerable:

— Meet people where they are. Treating all people with dignity and respect requires that we meet people where they are. When people come for help, it is not the time to judge — what is needed is a time and place to heal.

— Create a place of safety: To heal, people must be and feel safe. This learning was fundamental to the creation of Kenton Women's Village. Together with neighbors, volunteers and a community of developers, builders and construction firms, we created a place where women felt safe and valued, sometimes for the first time in many years — in their own lockable and private “pod.” Here they were free to come and go, to be close or distant, to talk or be silent, and to work on themselves — to dedicate themselves to self-care and healing.

In less than two years, more than 35 women have journeyed through Kenton and into permanent housing. We believe that ALL people need safe, healthy housing to thrive.

— Bring powerful tools to bear: Over time, we have developed powerful lines of service that help people make giant steps from vulnerability to security. We bring these services to bear in comprehensive service plans that build on people’s strengths and address their challenges. These essential tools include counseling and health/mental health services, financial empowerment, advocacy and legal representation and, most importantly, a place to call home.

— The importance of home: No matter what struggles we face in life, having a place to call home makes them easier to bear and overcome. Home is where we collect ourselves, heal and find warmth, safety, and calm regardless of the storms brewing outside. All people need a place to call home in order to thrive, and homelessness and inadequate housing are primary, preventable social determinants of illness and poor health, and a growing threat to the fabric of our community.

— Healthy Housing Initiative: Today, too many of our neighbors are homeless. More than 14,000 Oregon men, women and children are sleeping on the street, in parked cars, or bouncing between shelters every night, and these rates are expected to rise by double digits.  To meet this extraordinary need, Catholic Charities has joined with Providence Health and Services and the Archdiocese of Portland to lead an initiative to help create a home for thousands of Oregonians who currently are unhoused or at risk.

By working together, engaging health systems, property owners and developers, service organizations, and the network of local Catholic parishes and other faith communities, we intend to create hundreds of new units of affordable housing and permanent supportive housing for our most vulnerable neighbors in Portland and across the state. 

The long-term goal of our partnership is healthy housing for all Oregonians. To begin this work, we will undertake to put 1,000 new units of affordable housing in place, including 300 units of permanent supportive housing for those who need more intensive services and supports. Our aim is to share resources, work collaboratively and activate community support to create safe and affordable places to live. We also work to ensure access to primary health care, give hands-on support to find jobs, build life skills, increase self-sufficiency and provide the opportunity to live in community.

To reach these goals we need you. This is important work. Our hope and commitment to help end homelessness is unwavering. We must take action now, or the problem will become worse. With your help we will not let that happen on our watch. 

Together, we can make a difference. Please join us. 

Deacon Birkel is executive director of Catholic Charities of Oregon.