Jenn Louis ’89 Lends a Helping Hand to the Homeless Community in Portland

By Jessica Rice ’12

When Jenn Louis ’89 saw the amount of tent camps growing in Portland during the pandemic, she wanted to do something to help.

For the past six months, she has brought hot meals and a variety of donations to about 30 homeless people three times a week. Her efforts started after her boyfriend cleaned out his closet. She asked if she could donate his old wool sweaters to a tent camp she passed almost every day. The following day, she brought people living at the camp — and six other camps nearby — a hot meal of rice and beans. 

Months later, she has partnered with nearly 20 businesses and organizations that contribute to her efforts. From soap and socks to blankets and tarps, she asks the community what they need and makes sure she has those items next time she visits. 

“I offer these things with an open heart and without judgement. I do not ask about anyone’s past, I just ask what they need and what I can supply for them,” Louis said. “All I want is that their basic needs are met.” 

Although Louis’ goal is to provide basic needs for the people she helps, she does not want them to rely on her. Instead, she empowers and encourages them to pursue their goals — regardless of what those are. She also acknowledges that many people do not want to tell you about themselves, so she makes an effort to introduce and share information about herself first upon meeting someone for the first time. 

“I am building trust with these lovely people and can see the small changes in our relationships,” she said. “With basic needs met, I know that they can choose their next step, whatever it is.”

For Louis, one of the most rewarding parts of her experience has been getting to know the people she meets.

“They’re really good people,” she said. “There are such a variety of reasons that people are on the streets. I think that right now, more than ever, we need to think about the fact that we’re all interconnected. Just because someone isn’t your family or isn’t like you doesn’t mean you can’t expand your heart and include them in your world.” 

For those looking to help homeless people in their communities, Louis said donated meals and essential items are much appreciated, but also notes the importance of being friendly and approachable. 

“A smile goes really far,” she said. “Make eye contact and remember that all people are people. We’ve all been through different kinds of things in our lives.”

Louis plans to continue her efforts for a year, and see where it goes from there. Learn more about her homeless relief initiative on her website

June 24, 2021

13:36 PM PDT