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Walkin' the talk

Portland's Lynn McPherson spreads word for homeless care on B.C.-to-Mexico trek
by: L.E. Baskow, Lynn McPhersonleads family and friends along South Waterfront (left, in white) on her walk from British Columbia to Mexico — about 1,900 miles — to raise awareness for the homeless.

On the subject of the homeless, Lynn McPherson has some thoughts, and she asks for a penny for her steps. The 54-year-old McPherson plans to walk from British Columbia to Mexico this spring and summer to raise awareness — and hopefully some money — for the plight of the homeless. All McPherson asks from you, John Q. Public, is one penny each. As she figures, one penny from everybody in the country raises mucho bucks — for a population of 300 million, it means $3 million. As a pledge, she’s asking for one penny for each of the 1,863 miles she plans to walk on her long trek. “It’s an educational thing, an awareness walk, to get the public to change its mind about the homeless,” says the Portland resident, who wants to dispel the myth that all homeless people are drug addicts or alcoholics. “What we’re asking the public to do is accept them — they’re part of the community — and talk to them. The biggest thing they want is to show you care. “Donate one penny to the nearest homeless shelter. If all you have is one penny, donate it.” McPherson and friend Patrick Williams of Sunnyvale, Calif., started their journey in Blaine, Wash., and reached Portland this week, had lunch at the Portland Rescue Mission and walked along the waterfront and Macadam Avenue. After a few nights in Lake Oswego, she’ll continue to move south, hoping to reach the San Francisco Bay Area in late June and Mexico by the middle of August. Along the way, the pair plans to visit homeless shelters and try to gather as much publicity as possible. Without getting the word out, not many pennies would roll in. They’ll walk nearly the whole way, except for unnavigable stretches and Walker, 67, driving his van. Her trip blog can be read at www.walking4change.blog spot.com “We’re going to put in more than the 1,863 miles we originally thought,” she says. McPherson, who moved to Portland from the East Coast in 1997, says she speaks from experience regarding the homeless. She chose to leave an abusive relationship and ended up literally living on the streets and sleeping in her car for five years, 1979 to 1984. She had children, and worked for various carnivals for money — setting up rides, taking tickets, working the cotton candy machine, etc. It’s a bit different background than many on the streets — the destitute, drug addicted or mentally ill — but it’s still one of the many examples of people without stable home lives. The homeless plight is a deep-seeded issue with McPherson, who says she has also taken in many street kids in the past. “It’s been my passion,” says McPherson, a pastry chef who works out of her home. The idea for the B.C.-to-Mexico walk arose when her church gathered gloves and socks, wrapped them and gave them to homeless people at the Burnside Bridge — and all 864 pairs were taken in 2 1/2 hours. “When we went home, my granddaughter, who’s 7, handed me her piggy bank and said, ‘How many gloves and socks can we buy?’ It was $43,” she says. “That gave me the idea.” McPherson talked with Williams about the walk, saying “it’s a scathingly brilliant idea,” he remembers. “Next thing outta her mouth was, ‘Wanna come?’ “This is the type of lady … help (her), or get out of the way.” McPherson has tentative plans to make it an annual walk. Next year, she wants to walk from Nova Scotia to the Florida Keys. She started a foundation last year to help transitioning homeless people. “I want to make a difference,” she says. McPherson hopes to talk with 25,000 people during her long walk. Walking nearly 2,000 miles in a matter of four months can a daunting undertaking. She started training in February. “I’m overweight with a bad back and knees,” McPherson says. “When I need to rest, I do. I guarantee by the time it’s over, I’ll be half the size. I started training at the end of February and, without changing eating habits, I lost 37 pounds.” Her son, Josh McPherson, 29, doesn’t doubt she will make it. “A very stubborn woman,” he says. “I love my mom.”