Clackamas County group wants to recruit churches to help ease homeless problem

A group designed a program to use church parking lots to provide a safe space for the homeless population. (KATU Photo)

Homelessness is a problem too big for any one person to solve. One group is leaving it up to faith.

Pastor Craig Johnson is calling on churches to live out their values. He's the co-chair of the Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good Clackamas Housing Team and is a pastor at Christ Lutheran in Aurora.

The team created Safe Overnight Shelters, a program designed to use church parking lots to provide a safe space for the homeless population in unincorporated Clackamas County.

"We, I think, are called by our very essence of our mission as people of faith to care about our neighbor, to be the ones who show mercy, to show help," said Johnson.

According to the county, 2,293 people were homeless in 2017, a 4.4 percent increase from 2,196 in 2015. An alliance between the county and an organization is offering a solution to the problem.

"The system is ready. What we need is a church that feels the call and says we are willing to do this. We have people who will work with you," said Johnson.

It's not just overnight car or RV parking; they also want to provide tiny homes or Conestoga huts for the homeless. The housing team hosted an open house on April 28 at Christ Lutheran to help interested churches understand the program.

"People sometimes just need a place to park where they know they're not going to be there very long, where they can come, rest and catch their breath," said Johnson.

A similar program, called SafePark, launched in Vancouver last year. It's organized by a group called Go Connect. The group has already helped 27 families find permanent housing, and they're currently helping 35 people do the same.

"It's working so well that other churches are now asking to be a part of it," said David Bilby, executive director of Go Connect.

SafePark started with one church with five or six people last May. Now, Bilby says, it has five churches participating and 30 people are on the waiting list.

"It's an easy way to do outreach. For just a couple of volunteers, you can make a huge impact in a family's life," said Bilby.

If you know of a church in unincorporated Clackamas County that is interested, contact the MACG Housing Team by calling (503) 208-4391 or send an email to

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