by: Elizabeth Ussher Groff, Rev. Gary Vaughan and Operation Nightwatch Director Debbie Coppenger listen to music by “Ray & Katie Music” (background) at the Brooklyn barbeque picnic celebration for homeless guests and Nightwatch volunteers at Powell Park.

People who are homeless, or who must live in a hotel room downtown, often lack social opportunities such as getting together with others for outings or for a peaceful evening of games, coffee, and sandwiches.

That's why, twenty-five years ago, Gary Vaughan, a United Church of Christ minister, began walking the streets of downtown Portland at night with a few other volunteers, talking with people who were homeless, lonely or mentally ill, providing emotional support and helping to meet some basic physical needs.

Over time, a drop-in center was set up in a facility provided by the First Presbyterian Church in downtown Portland. Two nights a week, this small center is a late night refuge - a living room - where 100-150 people can find friendship and emotional support in a safe, non-violent atmosphere.

'Operation Nightwatch', as the drop-in center is called, provides warmth and welcome, coffee, sandwiches, blankets, socks, clothing and personal care items on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 7 pm until 11 pm. Board games, books and conversation are available to anyone who drops in. An emphasis on treating everyone with dignity and respect helps to keep the atmosphere safe and supportive

Despite its downtown base, on Saturday, September 16th, the organizers chose a Brooklyn park near Cleveland High School for their celebration of a quarter century of Nightwatch. The festive event included a barbeque, socializing, and music--at Powell Park, SE 26th and Powell Boulevard. Some sixty homeless and low-income people, plus twenty volunteers, ate hamburgers, hot dogs, and potluck side dishes, while listening to music.

The current Director of Operation Nightwatch, and its only paid staff person, is Debbie Coppenger--who described for THE BEE, at the event, the other activities provided by the organization. 'We have a bi-weekly foot-care clinic, monthly movies, outings to places like Silver Falls State Park, and many special event-- including an annual memorial service. The service is a cooperative effort of the Downtown Chapel and Nightwatch, held for all those who have passed away, often unrecognized, on the streets during the year.'

This unique volunteer-run drop-in center, funded primarily by donations from individuals, churches, and in-kind gifts, serves people regardless of their form of faith or personal belief. It can always use more volunteers for Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturday nights. If you are interested in helping, or donating blankets, socks, clothing or money, you can mail contributions to: P.O. Box 4005, Portland, OR 97208. Or, to get more information, e-mail Debbie at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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