August 2017 Newsletter


Reported by David Groff and John Elizalde

Every year Multnomah  County and the City of Portland  volunteers and outreach  workers combine efforts to do a comprehensive “point in time” count of children and adults experiencing homelessness.

This year the count occurred on February 22, 2017, and revealed that “11.6% fewer people” were sleeping without shelter.  It is believed that this is the result of the community’s “investment in rent assistance, housing placements and more than 600 new shelter beds.”

“In the Portland area, the average one-bedroom apartment now rents for more than $1,100 a month.“ Rents have grown 20 times faster than the median income since 2015, leaving minimum wage earners with little to cover other expenses.

In addition, more than 18,000 people in Multnomah County rely on federal disability checks that top out at $735 a month.

For more information, email


YOU are invited to attend the monthly meeting of the Interfaith Alliance which will be held at   the Madeleine Parish Fireside Room, 3123 NE 24,  from 12:00 – 2:00 PM,  Featured speakers will be:

Israel Bayer, Street Roots Executive Director and Lori Lematta, Street Roots Vendor

Street Roots provides income opportunities for people experiencing homelessness and poverty by producing a newspaper and other media that are catalysts for individual and social change.

Israel Bayer has been working at Street Roots, founded in 1998, for the past 15 years.  In Jessica Pollard’s article in the Willamette Week, she says  he has “become one of Portland’s leading moral authorities on homelessness.”

“Personally”  Israel says, “ I’ve always tried to lead the organization in a way that wasn’t geared toward doing the popular thing, but the right thing — for both the organization and people on the streets,”  

Lori Lematta has been selling Street Roots for three years. She will share her personal story.


“Tom Lechner is an art teacher, IT expert, photographer, facilities manager and role model. He’s also the one who makes sure dozens of homeless children get to school each day.

“Tom Lechner is also the transportation coordinator at Community Transition School in Portland.  The private, non-profit school for children experiencing homelessness serves about 80 students per day – this year 221 students total, from 121 families.  He sits at a schoolroom-style desk in one corner of a busy office, a computer screen in front of him, folders of paperwork on the desk, pen in hand, phone at the ready. He’s a tall, slim guy with tightly curling black hair showing wisps of gray, and frameless glasses perched on his nose. It’s his job to get 80 elementary school children to school every day, no matter where they may have spent the night.

All of the CTS students are homeless. They live in cheap motels or doubled-up in the apartments of relatives or friends; they sleep in shelters or in family cars or outside on the street. Some students might be in the school for just a day; others have stayed for years. The average length of stay is 13 weeks.

CTS takes care of these complexities one family at a time, wherever they are. How do they do it? Size and intimacy explain a lot. It’s a small, close-knit school; everyone knows everyone. They don’t have to follow each federal guideline. They can be in touch with every family, answer every call.

“ Once a week, Tom teaches a drawing class for a group of lucky students. There are other regular art classes, with all kinds of materials, but in Tom’s class, he said, “we usually just use paper and pencil.” Tom calls it observational drawing, but the kids simply call it Art with Tom.

The application process is “astonishingly simple:   no birth certificate, no proof of immunization, no paperwork. And no tuition. Families learn of CTS through word of mouth, and the shelters and other support organizations post signs and help spread the word. CTS maintains a close relationship with those in social services; the school depends on these people to help homeless families learn about CTS.

A parent calls,  gives the child’s name and birth date, and most recent grade level, and “in five minutes,”  they’re on Tom’s list for the next morning.

“Tom may have to figure out where a family has moved. Once, when parents didn’t call in, Juli Osa told the child, “Find an envelope that has an address on it, and tell us what it says, and then we’ll figure out where to go.” Every day, that second grader read out a new address, and called in to say where she was. She moved 22 times that year. This past year, one student moved 13 times in 110 days, and missed only two days of school.

“If a child doesn’t show up at the morning bus stop, Tom or someone in the office will call to find out what’s going on – but if they can’t get through and the child doesn’t show up for a couple of days, they stop sending the bus. It’s a painful part of the job: “You get to know the kids, and then they’re gone.”

“A lot depends on the kids’ initiative,” he said. “They have to figure it out. Somehow, magically, they find a way to get here.” It’s a remarkable place, and magic doesn’t seem too strong a word.

What would Tom most want others to know about the Community Transitional School? He answers slowly, pausing to think, and finally decides: “That it exists.”


“Several of us from the Interfaith Alliance on the Poverty Advocacy group were at the Arbor Mobile Home Park last Friday, July 28,  as part of a Living Cully project.  David Groff, Westminster Presbyterian Church, helped build  a stairway and Les Wardenaar, Fremont Methodist Church helped with window caulking. Marilyn Mauch, Fremont Methodist Church, myself, another Central Lutheran member and a friend of mine prepared a dinner meal for the group.” Sarah Carolus, Central Lutheran Church

 “David Groff built the stairs at Cedar Shade Mobile Home Park.  The rest of us were at Arbor Mobile Home Park.”  Marilyn Mauch Fremont Methodist Church

 “Thank you for bringing food to the Living Cully work project last night. You probably saw Les who was doing some caulking at the first of two mobile homes we worked on.  “ I worked with a group that built steps for a recently rebuilt porch on the other mobile home.  We managed to finish both sets of steps, which was much appreciated by the owners of the mobile home.  “I enjoyed working with the Living Cully folks.  Cameron is an impressive organizer with excellent Spanish language skills.” David Groff, Westminster Presbyterian Church



Alliance Co-Chair, Carol Turner, Tallies  2016-2017 Achievements

On June 29, 2017 members and friends of the Interfaith Alliance gathered to enjoy a potluck and review accomplishments of the past year.

Tom Hering, Co-Leader, with Sally Fraser, of the Advocacy Work Group described actions taken to support tenants’ rights,  protest no-cause evictions,   promote  affordable housing and recommend legislation.

Working with groups within the community including Living Cully and St. Charles Church, the Advocacy group has been active participating in efforts to produce positive change,  joining a number of  rallies at both the City Hall and the  State Capitol as well as supporting renters  throughout Northeast Portland.

Rae Richen, Co-Leader, with Dave Albertine, of the Transition to Stability Work Group, reported that working with the Village Support Network, a number of Alliance churches have been able to assist homeless families   in finding stable housing. 

Since the Village Support Network was forced to close on May 1, 2017, the Transition to Stability work group is now exploring other options for helping families out of homelessness.

John  Elizalde, Co-Leader, with Bonnie Gregg,  of the Becoming Poverty Aware & Communication Work Group,  reported on activities staged this year.

Poverty Curriculum seminars were presented at  Fremont Methodist by Love, Inc.,  and  at Westminster Presbyterian and First Unitarian churches by Rev. Connie Yost.

In cooperation with the 15th annual “Everybody Reads Program” sponsored by the Multnomah County Library, the Alliance promoted reading of   “Evicted” by Matthew Desmond.

Rae Richen obtained a grant   to enable the Alliance to provide ten Evicted books to each of the Alliance congregations    to share with their members and the community,

Holly Schmidt and Claudia Roberts organized a number of events to promote the Everybody Reads program.

On May 10, 2017,  Dr. Mandy Davis, of  Trauma Informed Care, presented a 4-hour seminar at the Madeleine Parish which was attended by about 60 people.

The Alliance newsletter is beginning its second year of monthly publication, the Alliance website was launched in March 2017, and the Alliance Facebook page will be available soon.



Jessica’s family was poor.  They endured the challenges confronted by poor people everywhere, struggling to find work, food, and shelter.  She also learned that real wealth is found not in accumulation of possessions, but in the relationships we forge within our families and  communities.

College educated, Jessica has become a leader among those advocating both for those in poverty and the health of our environment.

She observed that we tend to think of poverty in relation to lack of money, but Jessica directed our attention to other factors.

When the land, rivers, oceans and air become polluted, other kinds of poverty result.  No longer is there clean water to drink, fresh air to breathe, bees to pollinate our plants, soil to produce healthy crops, seas abundant with life, and forests to cleanse the atmosphere.        Jessica commented that if we do not address   threats to our environment, one day we may see the number of “climate refugees”   rival the number of  refugees now struggling to escape war zones.   When seas rise and crops fail, people will flee.

Other types of human experiences reflect poverty as well.     Immigrants  and refugees experience “poverty of homeland” living in daily fear of deportation and broken families.    People of color and different religions  experience the “poverty of discrimination.”   The elderly, the mentally ill, the addicted, the homeless—those who find themselves no longer connected with family or friends who have become strangers in their own communities,  experience  the “poverty of loneliness.”

 Mother Teresa has said, “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

Jessica observed that faith communities have traditionally responded to those in need. Working together, she is hopeful we can address all issues of poverty and create a healthy, caring community in Portland.

Tessa Millhollin