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Faithfully fighting homelessness

Aided by their Cornelius church family, Hillsboro couple supply homeless with food and supplies

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: TRAVIS LOOSE - David Swearingin (center) walks with his wife Niki (right) and members of his congregation in search of homeless campers in need of food and supplies on Monday, Sept. 12. In the early evening, David and Niki Swearingin walk with a group along the train tracks behind Hillsboro's Pioneer Cemetery in search of homeless campers.

Carrying paper bags filled with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bottled water and bags of chips, they hope to provide sustenance to whoever they can find surviving among the trees and dense blackberry bushes of west Hillsboro.

They repeat the act each week.

Some of the people they locate — people they call outdoor neighbors — gladly accept what they're offering, be it food, clothing, or hygienic supplies. Others dismiss them and refuse their assistance.

Yet they don't let the latter instances, which are few, defeat their purpose. Instead, they return the following week and offer their provisions again.

The Swearingins have been making these trips around Hillsboro to various homeless camps since March, they said, thanks to tremendous support and assistance from the congregation at the Christian Praise Center, their Pentecostal church at 254 N. 19th Ave., in Cornelius.

"For me, this is part of the directive for being a Christian," Niki said, calling it a lesson in Christianity 101. "You help the needy. You take care of the widowed and the orphaned. And this is just one aspect of it."

"That's what it's all about," David added. "Spreading hope and joy and love."

A turning point and call to action

Before they began making their trips to homeless camps, the Swearingins were more hypothetical philanthropists, they said.

Walking through a mall or a local park, they'd see people struggling and comment to each other how they wish they could do more — what they would do if they had the resources to do it.

"A lot of people feel that way and talk that way, but we've had in-depth discussions about plans we could put into place," David said.

They just didn't know how to implement those plans, or if they even should. Then, during a church-sponsored revival event in January, everything changed.

A series of services brought in pastors, prophets and apostles who spoke over two days, offering inspiration and encouragement for parishioners to do more in their local communities.

One in particular spoke directly to David.

"He said that I was going to be able to do things that no one else could," he said. "That gave me some confidence."

Later, another pastor spoke to the Swearingins as a couple and told them they were going to feed people on the streets.

Coincidentally, Niki has been studying nutrition as a student at Pacific University, with the goal of one day providing nutritious meals to underserved populations.

"(The pastor) didn't know who we were, and when she told us that we were going to be feeding people, we were like, 'That's exactly what we want to do,'" Niki said. "We had even talked at one point about opening a restaurant because we wanted to feed people."

They were skeptical at first, they said, and wondered how the pastor could have known they were already thinking along those lines. The message was too perfectly prophetic, they thought. But it was so perfect it couldn't be ignored.

"The conversation on the car ride home was intense," Niki said, adding they ultimately decided God had clearly given them their mission.

"It was the confirmation and nudge we needed," David said. "Instead of just talking about it, when we had that event and that lady had that message, it answered a whole lot of questions in our minds."

In less than a month, the Swearingins were researching how to offer help to the homeless and organizing their church to be the headquarters for their outreach efforts.

Had it not been for their involvement at the church, or their attendance at the revival, "We wouldn't have put it all together," David said. "We had found out in starting this, that to do it and have an effect we didn't have to have unlimited money. We just had to have the willingness. It's a realization. Too many people think you have to have all this money to make a difference, and you don't … people with not much money can have a big effect."

Running on faith

Almost every person in the congregation of 60 to 80 people now has a hand in helping, at least to some extent, Niki said, whether they contribute physical, emotional or spiritual support.

Some of the church members have come to help put the packages together, while others have gone out to deliver them.

"We have had instances where we're making lunches and people you wouldn't have expected from the church show up," Niki said.

Along with the lunch deliveries, the Swearingins also offer invitations to attend church services in Cornelius — and a handful of times, the outdoor neighbors they've met have responded.

When the first few arrived, David said, some members of the congregation expressed some discomfort, but eventually came to embrace the new arrivals.

"I feel like it's 100 percent support," Niki said. "No one has ever said, 'I think you're doing a horrible thing.'"

Using the church's commercial kitchen, storage space and extra hands, the Swearingins have a support system they don't believe would be available without their faith.

"Part of our faith is that God blesses those who give willingly and with a happy, joyful heart," David said. "We both do our best to continue our faith."

Project Homeless Connect returns to Hillsboro next week

On Sept. 23, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Sonrise Church in Hillsboro, 6701 N.E. Campus Way, about 60 organizations from around Washington County and the Portland metro region will participate in Project Homeless Connect by offering social services for Washington County's homeless population — including medical checkups, haircuts, showers, food and veterinarian services for pets, among many others.

First held in San Francisco, Project Homeless Connect's mission is to bring necessary services to people experiencing homelessness in their communities.

Since its inception in 2004, Project Homeless Connect events have been held in more than 200 cities across the U.S., Canada and Australia.

By Travis Loose
Reporter, Hillsboro Tribune
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