VANCOUVER, Wash. (NAMB) - Everyone has heard the recurring message, "Wash your hands," since the COVID-19 virus forced residents across North America into their homes. But, sheltering in place is a luxury some people cannot practice; they are homeless. While everyone is vulnerable to the virus, homeless people are especially at risk.
Ryan Sidhom wanted to serve individuals in his community who did not have facilities to wash their hands whenever they wanted. Sidhom serves as lead pastor of River City Church, Vancouver, Washington. River City is a one-year-old church plant. Vancouver lies north and just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon.
About 1,000 homeless individuals live within walking distance of the church's building. "We started praying for ways we could engage the homeless community, but we didn't know what that looked like," Sidhom said. "Two days later, I got a call from the Mental Health Association of Portland." The association was searching for a place in the area to set up a 'pit stop' for the community's homeless people.
During the pandemic, many such responses have happened fast. Fear of the coronavirus' quick and undetected spread has prompted people to sanitize their hands frequently. So, the partnership between River City Church, Washington Recovery Services (another community partner) and the Mental Health Association of Portland developed quickly.
The three partners arranged for a pit stop with three portable restrooms (one that's handicap accessible) and two handwashing stations in the church's parking lot. It was up and operating by April 21. The church is also used for storage space, according to Sidhom. The pit stop operates 8 a.m. - 6 p.m., daily. Volunteers and staff sanitize each restroom after every use. "They're probably the cleanest bathrooms in our city right now," Sidhom said. The church refers to the pit stop as the “Fourth Plain Pit Stop” on its Facebook page, reflecting the church’s address on East Fourth Plain Boulevard.
Sidhom and River City's volunteers converse with the men and women who come to the pit stop. In doing so, they have found additional ways to meet pressing pandemic needs. "Starting this weekend, we'll have portable shower trailers for homeless individuals to use, too," Sidhom said. The shower idea followed a conversation with a homeless individual at the pit stop. He said he had not been able to shower since the city shut down its homeless day center in early March. The showers arrived on Saturday, May 16. The church credited Royal Restrooms of Oregon (in Portland) for providing the shower trailer.
Sidhom said that seeing God's people share the Gospel with homeless people and seeing the volunteers serve them has encouraged him. Volunteers are a mixture of River City Church members and non-members. Sidhom recalled the story of one non-member volunteers.
"One of our main volunteers was homeless," Sidhom said. The man lived in his car and drove to the church daily. Sidhom continued, "I had some spiritual conversations with him. And, he shared he was dabbling in Satanism." The man explained that he had just finished a "Satanist's bible' study. "I asked if he would be open to studying the Bible with me. And, he said 'Yes,'" Sidhom said. "So, I bought him a Bible; he started reading it; we've continued having conversations; and, he's joined one of our small groups." The man said, 'If this kind of love is what you guys are about, I want to be part of this. When this is all said and done, I want to join your church.'"
Kevin Parker contributed to this report. The original story appeared on NAMB’s Send Network Blog.