Operation Nightwatch

Operation Nightwatch (ON) is a Portland, OR based not for profit providing hospitality to those in need.  Gary Davis, their Director, talks about the difference between serving the homeless and providing hospitality and it is an important distinction.  You don’t have to be homeless to need hospitality.  I found the following definition of hospitality describes the service provided by ON very well, “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.”

ON doesn’t distinguish at its three centers between people it recognizes and those they haven’t seen before, there is no judgment at play and I couldn’t have described their environment more aptly than “warm, friendly and generous”.  Their centers are located in downtown Portland and in SE Portland which is served by a Mobile Hospitality Center and a their SE Hospitality Center.  I quickly learned there is a big difference between these three centers.  My perception centered in the most needy residing in downtown but it is interesting this is where the focus of welfare has been fixed and as a result the most needy guests are often found in SE.  In the SE area, many people are living rough and the meals provided by ON make up their main meal of the day.

I visited the downtown center first and found a social club like atmosphere, very much in keeping with a working man’s social club in the UK.  Guests have the opportunity to enjoy hot drinks and snacks, and play cards and board games and I quickly found out they are very good at them so don’t even think about going easy.  I was very surprised by laptop row, as I called it; a couple of benches where guests bring their laptop PC’s and mostly watch movies.  They used to have wireless until somebody stole their router (note to self to find them a replacement).  What really struck me during my first couple of visit is the friendliness of the volunteers and guests, it is a very warm environment, a contrast to what some of these people face out on the streets where they can’t relax for more than a few minutes at a time.

One big question I wanted to understand better is why are these people homeless?  Was it by circumstance or choice?  I have found a mixture of reasons and the most common I classify as misfortune.  Many people have suffered some kind of dramatic life changing event, be that death of a loved one, a personal medical event or a financial one.  A few younger people have adopted the life of a traveller as a choice, initially running away from something and I am yet to find a middle aged or older person living this life by choice.

You can learn more about Operation Nightwatch here.

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