By JULIANNA ROBIDOUX
When Kris Kringle posted on Nextdoor, an app that connects people living in the same neighborhood, about her idea to give back to the growing houseless population living on her street, there were mixed responses from other users.
The post, titled “Adopt a tent(s) in your neighborhood”, said this:
“Hello neighbors, In our neighborhood we have a small pod of tents whose residents have consistently been good neighbors. They keep their area clear of trash, the sidewalk open, and they are quiet.
This Christmas, as a thank you, several of us who live near them are putting together Christmas gift bags for each tent that include consumables (like toothpaste), some treats, along with some new, washed clothing and a gift card to a local food cart.
The gift cards are a double win that also support our struggling food cart owners. I am posting this idea in case other neighbors would like to get together to thank one or more or their houseless neighbors for their considerate behavior this year. (No need to respond to this post.)”
Many comments were appreciative of the sentiment.
One user said: “Thank you for sharing! I do food box runs periodically and bring to my houseless neighbors. It’s a hard time and sticking together makes a difference.”
Another responded: “This is such a great idea!!”
Some even added suggestions of their own for gift ideas:
“Socks. They will really appreciat[e] getting lots of new socks.”
The comments section has since been closed but Kringle (who asked that her real name and neighborhood not be used, to avoid more backlash) says her post received its fair share of criticism— the kind that seems to arise from even the most remotely political posts nowadays. Some questioned why she decided to target the tents in her immediate neighborhood and not an encampment growing nearby that has made headlines.
Since the pandemic began, Kringle says that the cluster of tents on her street has grown from three to five single tents with five people living in them.
And her motivation for bestowing a holiday surprise to her houseless neighbors is simple: It’s their cleanliness and courteousness. Any other habits they may have are not of importance to her.
“It doesn’t matter— it’s not my business. I don’t ask my neighbors if they’re using drugs. They’re good neighbors and we work together,” says Kringle.
“My neighbors have a group message. If we’re going to the store we ask ‘does anybody want anything?’ So I put the message out to see if we wanted to provide gifts and a couple of them said ‘yes’ and then I just went to Walgreens and bought some larger gift bags. You can find cotton crew socks for $10.”
Other additions to the bag include home-baked cookies, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
Kringle says she justified her contribution due to the change in her lifestyle that the pandemic brought on:
“For me, I figure what the heck? We’re not traveling for the holidays. We’ve got a huge travel budget.”
Kringle and her neighbors plan on leaving the bags outside of the neighborhood tents on Christmas Eve.
“We want to let them know we appreciate them as neighbors… How good it feels to find a bag outside on Christmas Day and not feel forgotten,” she says.
They plan on including a Christmas card in each gift bag that thanks them for being good neighbors.
“It’s important to recognize that some homeless people are good neighbors.”
Ways to give back this holiday season
According to Because People Matter, a local organization who keeps an up-to-date count, there are currently 15,917 houseless individuals in the Portland metro area. With the mission statement “Loving People Because People Matter”, BPM creates relational environments that provide “Relief, Mobilization and Transformation.”
One of these environments is Night Strike, a weekly event that happens 47 weeks out of the year on Thursdays at Liberation Street Church on West Burnside Street. According to their website, doors open at 6:30 p.m. and orientation begins promptly at 7 p.m.
Registration is currently closed to volunteers, but they are always accepting cash donations and donations of seasonal and ongoing needs listed online. You can drop off at Liberation Street Church from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. on Thursdays prior to the weekly Night Strike event. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram @bpmpdx.
Metropolitan Family Service is looking for Holiday Cheer volunteers to “bring the holiday spirit into the homes of over 200 isolated adults.” They need help with gift wrapping, gift bag delivery and visiting, and donations of cash and specific items for the gift bags.
Union Gospel Mission is offering socially distanced volunteer opportunities that meet City guidelines and limit volunteer groups to 3 – 5 people. If you or a small group of people in your bubble want to pitch in, you can contact the volunteer Director at email@example.com to learn about the current opportunities and to get signed up.
PDX Parent, a local parenting magazine offers a list of 11+ Kid-Friendly volunteer opportunities in Portland. They categorize them by Child-and-Animal-Related, Service / Hunger-related, and Park / Neighborhood Beautification options.
You can also check out this extensive volunteer guide by Eater Portland with mutual aid ideas and opportunities galore.
Or pick up a shift at Oregon Food Bank, with this calendar with opportunities that you can filter by project type, location, ages allowed, and availability.
Julianna Robidoux is a local freelance writer based in Southeast Portland. Passionate about affordable housing and immigrant rights, she is a regular contributor to The Immigrant Story, a local nonprofit that amplifies the stories of immigrants and refugees.
Before graduating from PSU in 2019 with a major in international studies, she wrote her senior honors thesis on gentrification and displacement, focusing on the experience of the Eastern African community here.
When she’s not reporting on social justice issues, you can find her thrifting, enjoying live music or being overly competitive at bar trivia.
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