Everyday Heroes: Portland's Iron Squadron's mission to help the homeless
Sometimes, the angels of mercy and the angels of practicality unite for a common cause.
Just such a group is finding the little things -- a snack, a bottle of water, a pair of socks -- mixed with compassion -- can go a long way to making someone's day.
Especially, if they're living on the streets.
Cool costumes don't hurt either.
They call themselves the Iron Squadron and they're on a mission to help the homeless.
That mission begins with backpacks full of supplies like snacks, hygiene products, socks and, depending on the weather, seasonal supplies.
And what’s a superhero without a costume?
For Ace, Knuckles, Star Child and Quetra, it’s just another day helping folks on the street with a kind word, and a small gift.
“Would you like snacks, socks or water today, sir? I’m going to leave you a water bottle out here, OK?” said Ace, as he worked the camps under the Morrison Bridge. OK?
From inside a tent came a soft voice: “OK. I’m trying to sleep.”
“OK, gotcha,” Ace said. “Sorry to bug you. I’m going to leave a water bottle and some socks.”
For the past few years, the Iron Squadron has taken it upon themselves to reach out.
“Our mission is to go out and provide relief to the underserved,” Ace said. “Specifically, among the homeless. People who are away from the resources, like further than downtown if we can manage it. Just help whoever we can, really.”
While they use nicknames to preserve a sense of anonymity, their costumes don't go unnoticed.
“It’s more for fun. It also gives a little more attention to what we’re doing, so we can get extra help so we’re not doing it completely out of our own pockets because mostly that’s what we wind up doing,” Ace said.
For Ace Venom -- his real name -- living on the streets 15 years ago when he first moved to Portland left an indelible mark.
“It’s really rough,” he said of his three years on the street. "People ignore you. They try to pretend you don’t exist and the ones who do acknowledge you, most of them are not super-friendly.”
Knuckles, the son of one of the group's organizers, says he does it just to help.
“I like that I help them and at the end of the day they have something to eat, drink and clothes on their back,” he said. “They aren’t able to get money, so they cannot sustain a house.”
And there are plenty of helpers.
“Here’s some water,” Ace said to one of the campers. "Star Child can you run me some socks? Do you need any feminine hygiene products? Not right now? Got it. Have a great day.”
The Iron Squadron's work was recently recognized by the San Diego-based Xtreme Justice League, a nonprofit group that conducts safety patrols and homeless outreach services in much the same way as the squadron.