dump-sleeper
Image: Jenny Souza

Parishioners crash on the couch at Peace Mennonite Church

Geek analogies aside, the point is that of the nearly three thousand homeless people in the Portland area, many have found shelter off the grid, in the plentiful wilderness around the city. Kimes knows most of the hidden living quarters between Gresham and Portland, and after a little prodding from Hammer he finally agrees to show one he sincerely hopes is empty.

Kimes parks the car in a factory lot and, with Hammer trailing him at a safe distance, walks into the woods a quarter of a mile. “Don’t come here without me,” he says in a firm whisper. “It’s not safe. It’s not that they’re dangerous, but how would you like it if somebody came into your house? It’s the same thing with these guys.” After crossing a pair of train tracks, he stands under an overpass in what for all intents and purposes is somebody’s den. There are two tents, an oil drum fashioned into a grill, a few coffee mugs, cans of tuna and soup, and, to keep the area clean, a rake.

Once he’s relatively sure nobody’s home, Kimes finally speaks. It’s a trust thing—if he starts bringing strangers around camps like these, he might lose credibility. The campers tend to be wary of people with notepads, badges, or ties.

And why not? Kimes says it’s become common practice for Gresham police to throw away any signs of homeless encampments. Tents, sleeping bags, chairs, cans, mugs—basically all of their worldly possessions, tossed. “Las Vegas has a law where you can’t give street people food, and now we have a city camping ordinance in Portland, which basically makes it illegal to be homeless,” Kimes says. “I don’t see street people as a problem; I see them as a community that has been neglected. The problem is the people who don’t see that. Every politician, every judge, every member of the church—they need to spend time on the street. These people are considered the lowest of the low, completely outside of our mind-set.”

Kimes knows that what he’s saying sounds like the high-minded raving of a man who can see only to the far end of his own insular cause. But he doesn’t care. He is zealous, not stupid. “Do I think I can beat poverty? No way. But this whole ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ thing is not the solution. They need help that treats them as adults.”

Anawim’s goal is twofold: to help the homeless act as Christians while they’re on the street, and to create bridges between the middle and lower classes. “Salvation is not some spiritual fantasy,” Kimes says. “It’s God meeting people’s needs by giving them sufficient resources for everybody. You just have to trust in God.”