Portland church suspends homeless services after riot vandalism

2020 Protests

At least 10 people were arrested after a riot was declared in Portland on Wednesday night

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Staff at a church in downtown Portland have suspended worship services and their outreach programs for the homeless after someone smashed a window during a Wednesday night riot.

Surveillance video shows a crowd of protesters, all wearing black, march past Saint Andre Bessette Church on West Burnside Street when one person rushes up to a door and repeatedly hits the glass with what appears to be a hammer. A homeless person sleeping on the doorstep hurries away as the glass shatters.

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said multiple glass windows were broken at the church and suggested more than one person was responsible for the crimes.

The church serves hundreds of homeless people each day, providing shelter, meals and other services. Father Tom Gaughan said Thursday that the church had been able to continue its outreach services to the homeless throughout the summer by putting modifications in place that align with COVID-19 restrictions. They handed out brown bag lunches and drinks, hygiene kits and grocery bags. But the acts of vandalism during Wednesday night’s demonstrations have changed things.

“The building is compromised because of this so unfortunately the actions of this one individual has forced us to cease our outreach and its hundreds of people we normally give food to, we are not able to because I don’t feel like my staff is safe,” Gaughan said.

Gaughan added that he is also suspending church services including mass until they can secure the building. For now, mass will be live-streamed on Facebook.

“I am still waiting to hear from the general contractor about what we can do to try to support the place but I am not comfortable having people in the building with all the violence happening outside,” he said.

How to help Saint Andre Bessette Church

“We ask for everyones prayers for peace in our streets which is so long overdue and pray for our sisters and brothers who call the streets and shelters home,” said Gaughan. “Because the act of one person has prevented us from providing for hundreds of people over the course of a week.”

Governor Brown: ‘Indiscriminate destruction solves nothing’

Oregon Unified Command declared a riot after two groups of protesters converged in downtown Portland Wednesday evening, with one group going to Waterfront Park and the other blocking the Morrison Bridge and vandalizing small businesses and churches along West Burnside.

By the end of the night, a riot was declared and 12 people were arrested.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued a statement Thursday, condemning the violence and vandalism.

“Two groups gathered in downtown Portland last night. One group demonstrated peacefully for hours by the waterfront. Their clarion call advocating for racial justice and Black lives has resonated with Oregonians and driven real reform over the past several months,” Brown said. “Unfortunately, a second group of self-styled anarchist protesters, some armed, also marched downtown last night, with no discernible goal other than to cause violence and vandalism.”

Authorities said they arrested a man accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail — which was later determined to be a firework — at officers. That man was wearing a tactical vest and had a loaded rifle with additional magazines, an improved explosive device, a knife and cans of spray paint, according to the Unified Command.

Body armor and weapons seized by the Unified Command during a riot in downtown Portland, November 4, 2020 (Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office)

Law enforcement said they had also seized commercial-grade fireworks and hammers throughout the night.

Brown’s statement decried the individuals who “shattered the windows of a church that feeds Oregonians in need, a women-owned and operated business that raises money for immigrant and women’s rights, and many other storefronts.”

“Indiscriminate destruction solves nothing,” she said. “These are acts of privilege.”

Brown said she activated the National Guard at the request of the Joint Command. Members of the National Guard assisted with crowd management and performed highly-visible patrols around downtown.

“These are Oregonians like you and me, who have volunteered their time and taken leave from their jobs and their families to keep the streets of Portland safe,” Brown said. “For weeks, Oregonians have called for an end to the violence. I will continue to do everything in my power to keep the peace in Portland and make sure that people can make their voices heard safely.”

MultCo D.A. Responds

The Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt denounced the overnight destruction on Thursday morning, as well. In a statement, Schmidt called the damage done to various shops and small businesses “unacceptable and criminal.” He said his office is fully committed to prosecuting those who engaged in Wednesday night’s destructive conduct.

Read his full statement below:

“When we stand up against injustice in our community we do so with an unwavering expectation that our businesses and critical service providers will not be targeted with property damage and that people can gather without fear of physical violence.

What we saw last night – the destruction of property at multiple businesses including at a female-founded and women run local clothing store, at a church that provides healing and shelter, clothing, food and assistance to homeless individuals and people overcoming substance abuse and addiction and at a hotel that is committed to the revitalization of Old Town Chinatown — is unacceptable and criminal.

My office rejects all forms of violence and property destruction. We are fully committed to prosecuting those individuals who engage in this conduct. We will work in partnership with law enforcement to develop cases by identifying suspects and evidence that can be used in court to ensure accountability for criminal acts occurring in our community.”

We will always support those who participate in demonstrations absent of behavior that promotes and inflicts harm because such conduct diminishes our shared objectives of creating a stronger, healthier and more equitable community.”

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