Portland

Seattle Times and Associated Press focus on West Coast homeless, but with little faith factor

Seattle Times and Associated Press focus on West Coast homeless, but with little faith factor

Twice in recent months I’ve had neighbors over to dinner in my small rented condo in a Seattle suburb. And the topic that we all talked about non-stop? The impossible cost of housing in this area (a typical home costs $735K; condos average $378K) and the armies of growing homeless people around the Pacific Northwest.

I was in Oregon about two weeks ago and noticed the large amounts of people camping out on the streets overnight, as Portland’s homeless problem is as invasive as Seattle’s. Cities up and down the entire West Coast are in agony over this, as the sheer numbers of people on the street are outstripping local governments' ability to deal with them. The spending in King County (which embraces Seattle) alone is $195 million in dealing with a problem that’s not getting any better and which is documented in this city site.

In a series of Seattle Times stories that are part of the paper's Project Homeless, a two-year concentration on the problem that kicked off earlier this month, I’m finding an odd split personality. You see, the photos show religious content (that is, church groups helping the homeless), but the reporting in the main news stories does not. What's up with that?

Photos by Alan Berner show a man praying at the Catholic-run St. Martin de Porres shelter in south Seattle: a memorial to homeless in St. Martin’s chapel and bunkmates at the Union Gospel Mission’s shelter near Pioneer Square. But I couldn't find mention of what these places do other than be available.

The Associated Press has jumped onto the issue, stating that the entire West Coast is overwhelmed.

That struggle is not Seattle’s alone. A homeless crisis of unprecedented proportions is rocking the West Coast, and its victims are being left behind by the very things that mark the region’s success: soaring housing costs, rock-bottom vacancy rates and a roaring economy that waits for no one. All along the coast, elected officials are scrambling for solutions.
“I’ve got economically zero unemployment in my city, and I’ve got thousands of homeless people that actually are working and just can’t afford housing,” said Seattle City Councilman Mike O’Brien. “There’s nowhere for these folks to move to. Every time we open up a new place, it fills up.”

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Sticking to his guns: Episcopal priest denounces weapons, with Los Angeles Times' help

Sticking to his guns: Episcopal priest denounces weapons, with Los Angeles Times' help

An Episcopal priest in Oregon inserted himself into a gun controversy -- actually, created one -- and then he acted shocked, shocked at the public blowback.

So did the Los Angeles Times, in an article that could have been written by public-relations professionals working for anti-gun advocates.

Rather than lengthen this intro, let's just load up and chamber the first excerpt:

The Rev. Jeremy Lucas brought an olive branch to a gun fight recently, hoping for a mellow outcome. It began when he won a semi-automatic rifle in a local raffle, then revealed his plan to destroy it and was mostly congratulated for his stand.
But the 44-year-old Episcopal priest’s token attempt to take another gun off the streets did little to keep the peace. In response to his gesture, Lucas got threats and demands for his arrest.
"I’ve come to learn a lot about the nature of social media," Lucas said last week of some of the comments about his one-man, one-gun protest. "The rabid gun activists come out swinging, trying to close down any meaningful conversation and attempting to intimidate people into silence."

But the article has large silences of its own, including many primary sources and a religious "ghost."

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Let us not pray: Religion News Service eyes the National Day of Reason -- but not closely

Let us not pray: Religion News Service eyes the National Day of Reason -- but not closely

With the much-discussed Rise of the Nones has come a rise in demand for celebrations especially for them. Enter the National Day of Reason, championed since 2003 by the American Humanist Association and the Washington Area Secular Humanists.

That's today, according to the NDOR website; but the Religion News Service reports that its backers have been trying to get Congress to move it officially to May 4. Not coincidently, RNS notes, that's the National Day of Prayer, so declared by Congress and all presidents since 1952:

And that, says Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, is the problem.
"This is government recognition of prayer and that is wrong, no matter how you look at it," Speckhardt said. "Having a National Day of Reason on the same day says this is an example of a day the government can endorse that doesn’t exclude people based on their answers to a religious question."

The story cleverly connects some dots suggesting that the NDOR movement may be gaining traction. Those dots include the three sponsors of this year's congressional resolution (though it's been tied up in committee).

Also mentioned are the three states -- Iowa, Nebraska and Delaware -- that proclaimed the day on May 4 last year, and Iowa scheduled another one this year.  And groups "from San Diego to Portland, Maine" have held National Day of Reason events since 2011. RNS even notes that President Obama's National Day of Prayer proclamation last year "acknowledged Americans who 'practice no faith at all.' " Nice enterprise reporting, all of it.

Less enterprising is the article's sharp left turn into International Darwin Day, Feb. 12, and how it has grown in popularity since its founding in the 1990s. Apparently, the reason for adding it here is to say the NDOR folks hope to emulate its success. But the story appears to err in branding Darwin an atheist. Several biographies, including this one, say he called himself an agnostic instead.

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Churches and the homeless: Oregon media do the best job crediting who's really helping out

Churches and the homeless: Oregon media do the best job crediting who's really helping out

Homelessness is a huge problem on the West Coast, which seems to be the nation’s new mecca for tent cities, shelters and encampments under the freeways. California alone has 25 percent of the nation’s homeless population and when the weather gets warm, a lot of them migrate north to Oregon and Washington.

Several mayors of large cities in three states met in December to figure out how to solve a problem that’s increasingly taking up public money and sidewalk space.

The Oregonian did a series on the problem a year ago, as Portland’s lenient policies on sidewalk residents –- along with a lack of low-cost housing –- have attracted a large population. Willamette Week recently compared Portland’s generous policies with other West Coast cities. And the homeless problem here in Seattle has become so epic, photographers are doing year-long projects about it.

As I’ve scanned bunches of articles on this phenomenon, I’ve noticed a dearth of mentions on the churches that are out there helping the homeless. There are some exceptions, such as this 2004 Los Angeles Times piece on Azusa Pacific University’s homeless outreach.

Note: I had to go back 12 years to find that one.

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5Q+1 interview: Melissa Binder on the thriving Godbeat in America's least-religious city

5Q+1 interview: Melissa Binder on the thriving Godbeat in America's least-religious city

Melissa Binder is rocking the Godbeat in one of the unlikeliest of places -- Portland, Ore.

"Who else is going to tell you what religion in the rest of the United States might look like in 50 years?" The Oregonian writer responds when asked about covering faith and values in America's least-religious city.

Binder's journalism talents earned her prestigious national awards even before her graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013. Besides gaining photography, writing and digital news experience on campus, she interned for major news organizations such as the CNN Wire, the Charlotte Observer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

After graduation, she joined The Oregonian as a neighborhood news reporter covering parts of Portland before transitioning to the newspaper's newly revived religion beat less than a year ago. 

In introducing herself to Portland readers, she cited her own faith:

I'm interested in this beat for reasons beyond intellectual curiosity. Belief is central to individual identity for many of you. As a person of faith, I get that. I grew up in a North Carolina church (quite literally — I attended a Christian elementary and middle school in the same building where my family attended regular services). You can find me with my husband in the front row at Imago Dei Community in Southeast Portland almost every Sunday morning.

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The Oregonian finally has a religion writer who's pursuing the beat

The Oregonian finally has a religion writer who's pursuing the beat

Seattle University is one of those institutions that conservative Catholics love to hate.

Not only does the Jesuit school host an annual Lavender Celebration that has honors such as the “Sylvia Rivera Award for Queer Activism,” but it includes faculty who write books such as “A Brief, Liberal, Catholic Defense of Abortion.” Alhough it's odd that a Muslim cleric might feel at home there,  what is interesting is that the story about this imam first ran in the Oregonian.

The premise of Abdullah Polovina's story sounds like the start of a bar joke:
A Muslim imam walks into a Catholic university...
Except it's true. Polovina, who leads a congregation of Bosnian Muslims in Portland, did walk into a Catholic university.
And in June, he'll walk out to "Pomp and Circumstance." The 41-year-old recently completed a master's degree at Seattle University's School of Theology and Ministry, where he was the first Muslim to ever enroll.
"I was looking for a place to be accepted as myself and to be the true face of Islam, though I am not the best follower," Polovina said.

I first spotted this story in a Washington state newspaper, which had picked it up because there’s a reporter at “the Big O” who has reinvigorated the religion beat. Or the “faith and values” beat, as they call it. Whatever.

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Welcome Julia Duin: Home in the Northwest and still watching the religion beat like a Seahawk

Welcome Julia Duin: Home in the Northwest and still watching the religion beat like a Seahawk

EDITOR'S NOTE: Veteran religion-beat reporter Julia Duin – now a journalism professor who is active writing books and in magazine journalism – is joining us here at GetReligion. She will focus her work on the American West, which is her home territory. Make her welcome, please. -- Terry Mattingly.

*****

You might say I got into religion reporting while a high school student in the Seattle area. I saw the huge readership -- and tons of letters -- that Earl Hansen received for his religion columns in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I thought, I can do that. And so my first religion piece ever was for the Covenant Companion, a denominational magazine, about my bike trip around Puget Sound with the youth group from a local Evangelical Covenant church.

While majoring in English at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, I came to know the religious community in western Oregon pretty well. I also could not believe what a poor job the local papers did of covering the religion beat. I soon got a job as a reporter at a small daily just south of Portland where the editor told me I had to choose one page to edit: agriculture or religion. I chose religion and have not stopped covering it ever since. I also began corresponding for Christianity Today at that point in an era when women rarely wrote for that publication. 

I then moved to south Florida for a few years, covering religion among other beats and my work at CT and a first place in an RNA competition for religion reporting for small newspapers caught the eye of The Houston Chronicle. They hired me as one of two full-time religion writers in 1986. Those were the salad days of covering the beat: the Jim-and-Tammy-Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart "Pearlygate" scandals, Pat Robertson running for president, a local United Methodist bishop dying of AIDS, Pope John Paul II’s swing through the southern USA and Oral Roberts’ claim that God would “take me home” if he was not able to raise $4.5 million. It was rich. 

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