For 2nd year, Eat & Greet party shows possibilities when neighbors embrace shelter residents

October 17, 2019

At the 2019 Wy'east Eat & Greet.
Last year, neighbors in outer Southeast Portland’s Mill Park community did something that no neighborhood had done before: They threw a party for more than 100 men staying in a nearby shelter.

Working with local businesses and other partners, they threw a joyous barbecue for the men staying  at Multnomah County’s Wy’east shelter.

That party, dubbed the “Parking Lot Eat & Greet,” came just months after some community members held protest signs when plans for the shelter were announced in June 2018. The gathering was a remarkable turnabout — inspired by a next-door neighbor, Caleb Coder, who’d been open to the shelter’s arrival and had befriended one of the elderly men who’d come to live there.

On Friday, Oct. 11, Coder and his community stepped up for the second year in a row. 

Last year’s summery vibes gave way to scenes of autumnal coziness — hay bales, pumpkins and cups of hot chai tea — but once again, the men at Wy’east were invited to join their neighbors for food and music in the parking lot of the Plaza 122 property just south of the shelter.

“Thank you for being here,” said Kelly Fitzpatrick, a board member from the Mill Park Neighborhood Association, which helped sponsor the event. “We’re really happy and excited to be part of this.”

A few other details changed this year, beyond the decor. Last year, Wy’east was managed by Transition Projects. But this year, it’s managed by Do Good Multnomah, which focuses on housing and sheltering veterans at Wy’east in addition to prioritizing single men who are 55 and older or who otherwise have a disabling condition.

Do Good took over Wy’east, which operates in a County-owned building, after Transition Projects opened two new long-term shelters in Creston-Kenilworth and the Pearl District. Do Good Multnomah was able to move its night-only veterans shelter in Rose City Park to the County site, operate 24/7 and increase the number of guests it serves. 

With office space for case managers, Wy’east also has room for Do Good Multnomah to offer wraparound services.

Caleb Coder, Eat & Greet creator, addresses the crowd during a welcoming party for the Wy'east shelter on Oct. 11, 2019.
Coder said the Eat & Greet idea came to him after he met a man named Ed who had been living at the shelter. Ed, who is in his 70s and has limited vision, needed help getting back to Wy’east one morning. Coder introduced himself, fixed Ed some coffee and chatted with him. Later, he invited Ed and two of his friends to his house, just north of the shelter, for a barbecue.

From there, Coder thought he could do the same thing, but for everyone in Ed’s situation. He wanted something else for his neighbors besides some of the anger that initially erupted — and ultimately faded once Wy’east began operating.

This year, Coder worked again with Mill Park neighbors. Mercy Corps’ Community Investment Trust, which owns Plaza 122 next door, once again stepped in as host. Other partners this year included the Joint Office of Homeless Services, HereTogether Oregon, the Welcome Home Coalition and Business for a Better Portland. Cracker Barrel restaurants donated massive platters of meatloaf, dumplings, mashed potatoes and vegetables. And Pip’s Original Doughnuts and Chai brought their mobile food cart, dispensing dozens of mini doughnuts and cup after cup of hot chai and spiced cocoa.

At a time when voices continue to be raised in the wider community about the sight of people living their private lives in public, and with some of those voices drifting into violence, Coder said events like Eat & Greets are even more important.

“It could be this: People coming together, being for and with each other. There’s a lot of power in that,” he said at the Eat & Greet. “What if the simplicity of neighbors being neighbors — drinking coffee and tea, sharing food, conversing — can transcend the complexity of violence and dehumanization and racism?”

At the 2019 Wy'east Eat & Greet on Oct. 11, 2019.

At the 2019 Wy'east Eat & Greet on Oct. 11, 2019.

At the 2019 Wy'east Eat & Greet on Oct. 11, 2019.

At the 2019 Wy'east Eat & Greet on Oct. 11, 2019.

At the 2019 Wy'east Eat & Greet on Oct. 11, 2019.

Daniel Hovanas of Do Good Multnomah speaks at the 2019 Wy'east Eat & Greet on Oct. 11, 2019.

Kelly Fitzpatrick of the Mill Park Neighborhood Association speaks at the 2019 Wy'east Eat & Greet on Oct. 11, 2019.

Sven Gatchev of the Community Investment Trust speaks at the 2019 Wy'east Eat & Greet on Oct. 11, 2019.