Showing 'Just Compassion' to the Homeless

Darla at Lake

By Emily McFarlan Miller

It was a route Darla Samuelson and her friend had jogged before – one in Tigard, Oregon, that ran beneath a bridge where men and women without homes or jobs congregated looking for work for the day.

But one day in 2008, Samuelson did something different. She stopped.

Several of the classes she was taking at the time, working toward her MDiv degree at Portland Seminary, had challenged her ideas about what it meant to be “missional.” She had grown up thinking that meant going to another country on a missions trip and then returning to her daily life. But she started thinking about what it would look like to be “missional” in her daily life in her own city.

“It means I can’t be anonymous, and I can’t go somewhere and do my missions work and leave. This is my daily life,” she says. “They’d see me more than a missionary. They’d see me as a human being.”

So she and her friend asked the homeless people under the bridge that day to tell her one thing they needed. She was surprised when they said they needed laundry and showers.

That was the beginning of Just Compassion, a coalition of both religious and nonreligious organizations dedicated to meeting the needs of the homeless in East Washington County.

Once a month, Samuelson, director of masters programs at Portland Seminary, and her friend started meeting with homeless men and women at a local laundromat and filling the machines with quarters so they could do their laundry. Then she took them to a fitness center to shower. And she did the same thing she had done that day under the bridge: she spent time talking with people, getting to know them and being present to them.

It’s being “the hands and feet of Jesus,” she says, showing the same compassion to people that he does. 

“I just read in the gospels about how Jesus walked and talked with people. He fed the 5,000. He told Zaccheus to come down from the tree. There’s so much more in the text that talks about how Jesus was with people, whether he was healing them or just noticing them alongside the road,” she says.

When that fitness center went out of business, Samuelson reached out to churches and other organizations and realized there were many more in the area interested in meeting the needs of adults without homes.

The organizations decided to meet together each month. They all were new to working with the homeless, and they were “just getting educated and helping each other get educated on what was available to the people we were serving.” 

By 2013, their coalition had a name: Just Compassion. And they had decided as long as they were meeting together to talk about helping the homeless, they should be doing something together to help the homeless, too. 

They started putting together laminated cards listing where people could find food, shelter and transportation, which the city of Tigard volunteered to print. And they dreamed of having a permanent place for a day center where people could shower and do laundry, as well as get a meal and have an address for mail and job applications. 

In the last year, Just Compassion has found an “angel investor,” Samuelson says, and, “we might be in the very beginnings of finding a place.”

Its coalition members continue to host a Showers and Laundry Day from 1 to 3 p.m. on the first Sunday of the month at Rosalita’s Laundromat in Tigard. They also meet from 7:30 to 9 a.m. on the first Thursday of the month at Davidson's Casual Dining in Tigard.

And that’s “just compassion,” Samuelson says. “It’s saying you’re a human being, and I am, too.”

Emily McFarlan Miller is an award-winning journalist and truth seeker based in Chicago. She is pursuing a master’s degree in intercultural studies at George Fox Evangelical Seminary through the North American Institute of Indigenous Theological Studies. Connect with her at .