It was early Sunday morning and I was listening to the radio as I was making my breakfast. On KXL they were doing an interview of Bill Russell, selected by Portland Metro Area Realtors to be Portland’s First Citizen. The name I recognized immediately because Bill and I were in the Gresham Rotary. What I didn’t know since many years have passed is that Bill is the executive director of the Union Gospel Mission. He has a background as a prosecuting attorney in Lewiston, Idaho. He witnessed many of those he was prosecuting go through the turnstile of prison and addiction to drugs, alcohol, and homelessness.
In 1982 Bill met Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship and he became the regional director overseeing programs in four western states. Upon leaving this ministry to join Union Gospel Mission he helped create LifeChange. This program requires responsibility to those seeking a better life.
At their downtown location 3 N.W. Third Avenue, they house 50 men in a residential live-in program and 38 women and children at their Beaverton site. The mission serves over 250,000 meals annually and has a search and rescue nightly outreach to homeless throughout the Portland area.
Bill, please tell us about your residential program for men, women and children.
We give men and, maybe for the first time, the ability to rebuild their lives to be healthy and productive. Many have been abused and have used drugs and alcohol as a means of trying, but unsuccessfully, to cope. Mental illness is a major challenge; and we provide counseling and support. They live at our downtown location for a period of two and a half years. Women go through a similar program at our Beaverton mission site. Those who complete the program are part of an 84% success rate. We provide job training skills and they go to work on a daily basis. The most important component to our mission is that it be Christ-filled at every aspect. You will find the Bible prominently displayed in our lobby entrance.
What do you do to help the homeless?
The homeless in Portland area has grown dramatically. We have a search and rescue van that goes out at night searching for the camps. You have some in Troutdale behind the Lewis and Clark Park next to I-84. There are also camps behind the truck stops. The estimation is there are between 8,000 to 10,000 homeless in Portland and suburbs.
When we find the camps we provide essentials, food, clothing, hygiene items. We go out five nights a week. This is really critical during the winter months as many have no place to go for indoor shelter and we often find children and their parents living in their cars.
Tell us about one of your main fundraisers.
Thanksgiving dinner is a major event at the mission. We provide a Thanksgiving feast to anyone who needs a hot meal and friends to share it with. We call it Love Your Neighbor Day.
We serve 800 plus meals. Turkey of course, 350 pounds of mashed potatoes, stuffing and candied yams, 75 gallons of turkey gravy, 72 pounds of cranberry sauce, 240 pumpkin pies, 1200 dinner rolls and 100 gallons of coffee.
A mailer is sent out asking for donations and we have broken down the cost to just $2.17 per meal. We receive no monies from government programs but depend on the generosity of the public to support this meal and all of our programs.
When did the Union Gospel Mission open their doors?
We became operational in 1927. At that time Portland had a very active harbor with many sailors coming to our facilities. Our new residential facility at our downtown location was completed in 2006. We have served thousands of men and women that otherwise would have no hope and give them a hand up. We are about rebuilding lives through the power of Christ love.
Some of our readers may be inspired to volunteer. How can they help?
Volunteers are critical to our success. We need their help. You can also become a partner through donation by going on line to www.ugmportland.org or mail to 3 NW Third Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97209. You can also call (503) 274-4483 to make your donation over the phone.