Everyday Heroes: Retired veteran reaches out to homeless vets, offering support and more
A retired teacher and Army veteran, who never knew what being homeless really meant until he moved to Portland, is now working full time to get homeless vets off the street and into housing,
To Ken Walker, driving homeless and formerly homeless veterans to doctors' appointments, grocery shopping or anywhere else they need to go doesn't feel like going out of his way.
“To me, this is vets helping vets and keeping vets in housing,” Walker said. “You know, formerly homeless vets but now they're in housing, and I want to keep them there. That's the best way to solve our homeless situation here.”
While most of his 40 hours a week volunteering at the Community of Christ Church in Northeast Portland comes naturally -- his wife is the church pastor -- Walker has taken it many steps further.
“Give him a call, say you gotta do this or that, and he'll come with his car, take you where you gotta go, do what you gotta do,” said veteran Bob Reese. “Any time you need food, and I come here for the services too.”
Reese wound up homeless about a year ago but is now in temporary housing downtown in the Henry Building and expects to move to his own permanent apartment in June.
Walker set up a food pantry and household goods closet at the church so veterans transitioning to temporary or permanent housing can stock up on food and supplies.
“Canned vegetables, tuna is very popular, peanut butter and jelly, rice spaghetti,” he said. “Stuff that lasts a long time. A lot of guys when they become homeless they lose everything. They're starting from scratch.”
For Scott Ramsden, Ken Walker was there when his rent went through the roof and he found himself on the street for months.
On Sunday mornings, the church invites homeless veterans from the Do Good Multnomah shelter to the church for a shower and meals.
“The thing about Ken is he's available seven days a week all the time,” Ramsden said. “He takes me food shopping, that way I don't have to try to wrestle a bunch of grocery bags on the bus.”
Even more importantly for Ramsden, Walker provides a social connection.
Food for the soul.
“We hang out and get a burger and we talk,” said Ramsden. “He's the only person I can talk to about my problems, that I know he's listening and really cares. He’s my best friend.”
And for a city whose empathy for the homeless can be stretched to the breaking point, Walker has a simple message:
“If you see homeless people, treat them with respect,” he said. “You know, look at them, talk to them, you know they are people too. And don't be afraid of homeless people.”