A key component of a rangers’ duties is outreach and assistance to Portland’s homeless population. This ongoing work has received an impressive boost through the efforts of Portland Park Ranger Katie Gribbon. Gribbon has been attending the Bridgetown, Inc.’s weekly Night Strike since before she became a park ranger in the summer of 2012. Night Strike is a Thursday night event, held under the Burnside Bridge in PP&R’s Waterfront Park.
The gathering provides a chance for people to have free hot meals and haircuts, to pick up toiletries and other basic necessities like blankets and sleeping bags, and access resources for bike repairs. An array of mental health resources are available, along with those for pregnancy and runaway issues, and referrals to advocacy organizations like JOIN.
Ranger Gribbon’s regular presence has allowed her to strengthen new and existing relationships with Night Strike attendees, many of whom she sees elsewhere around town.
“At first it was a trying experience,” she admits. “People immediately see the badge and are apprehensive, but you start building the trust with consistency. I'm not down there to enforce rules, but to provide help, and a longer-term relationship. It only takes one support person to help someone find the right road. I want them to talk to me, and tell me what's going on with their life.”
Gribbon says it may take weeks, but that the results have been dramatic.
“Homeless people can't be lumped together as all needing the same, uniform services,” she says. “I touch base with them on their individual needs. We’ve gotten to where they say, ‘now we know we can come to you, we can bring you someone and you'll have some way to help them.’”
Seeing the positive results, other rangers have followed suit and begun attending Night Strike as well.
Gribbon’s efforts go far beyond her weekly efforts at Night Strike. She encouraged fellow rangers to donate clothes to homeless people at the events. But Rangers have gone a step further and regularly drop off clothes and supplies on their patrol routes.
Ranger Gribbon regularly buys pairs of gloves to donate - with her own money. She estimates she has handed out about 60 pairs of gloves to homeless people this year alone.
“It’s really easy and it helps a lot,” she says. “’Hey, you know your hands look really cold…here ya go’. You can build a relationship that way. I think being a ranger helps tremendously, I have access to more resources and help change perceptions of people wearing a badge.”
Gribbon says she is most proud of helping a homeless woman find an apartment, of securing pregnancy resources for another, of seeing scores of people move on to better things.
“There are so many success stories!” she exclaims. “It took four or five times, me showing up and sitting down for a meal. At first they stopped all their conversations as soon as I sat down, but suddenly there was this opening. I find ways to help them. Now I sit down and folks just keep talking. They know I'm not there for any other reason except to help them.”
The next Night Strike gathering is Thursday, January 17, 2013, beginning at 8:00 p.m. under the Burnside Bridge.
About Portland Park Rangers
Portland Park Rangers provide a friendly, approachable face in our parks. All Portland Park Rangers receive training on working with the homeless as part of basic training.
Night Strike is a unique opportunity for people to gather under the Burnside Bridge on the park side of Naito Parkway every Thursday night and love people because people matter. It’s an opportunity for members of Portland’s homeless community to hang out, enjoy a hot meal, receive a free hair cut, shave, have their feet washed and have their old shoes/clothes/sleeping bags replaced. It is also a chance for you to come down and share in the experience, help serve the needs of the homeless in our community, and more importantly, invest in lives and build relationships with the people you meet.