Portland Rescue Mission: 70 Years of Hope and Restoration

Humble Beginnings

John Van Diest, Sr. with wife, Tress

It was 1949 when John Van Diest, Sr. looked with compassion at the hungry, destitute men struggling on the streets of Portland and shared his lunch. It happened so often his wife, Tress, began making extra sandwiches for him to pass out to broken men. This eventually evolved into a simple soup kitchen on Burnside Street. John and Tress purchased the groceries themselves to make a pot of soup to share. Afterwards, John would share with them about God’s love. 

From those humble beginnings Portland Rescue Mission was born.  By 1954, their kitchen had grown to become Portland Rescue Mission and had moved to it’s current location at 111 W. Burnside St. There they provided food, clothing, shelter and spiritual help to those in need.

Portland Rescue Mission Today

It has been 70 years since John Van Diest gave away his first sandwich. Now Portland Rescue Mission serves men, women and children in five locations:

  • Burnside Shelter, that houses our meals, emergency shelter, Next Step and Connect programs
  • The Harbor, our long-term recovery program for men 
  • Shepherd’s Door, our long-term recovery program for women and children
  • 2 Community homes  – one for men and one for women and children to have a safe space to transition successfully back into community. 
Participants in our programs are provided the tools they need to grow and strengthen relationships in four different communities: home, church, recovery and work.

More Than A Soup Kitchen

John Van Diest Sr. standing next to Portland Rescue Mission’s shelter located at 111 W. Burnside St.

Portland Rescue Mission has seen a long history of lives being changed as we grew from those simple beginnings to meet the changing need of hurting people in our community. Over our 70 years, Portland Rescue Mission has expanded from a “soup kitchen” to a place of recovery and hope for men, women and children who need healing. We provide a ladder of services to people struggling with homelessness. From meals, to shelter, short-term programs to long-term recovery, advocacy and community, Portland Rescue Mission has scaled our response to the level of need for each individual. We meet people where they are at and walk with them towards their goals. 

Shepherd’s Door

Tress Van Diest standing next to Shepherd’s Door original space.

Shepherd’s Door began in 1994 inside a small former doctor’s office. During the 1990s, women were the fastest growing homeless group in the country (and still are in Portland,Oregon). With a homey atmosphere and bright rooms, the remodeled space was designed to be a haven for hurting women and children, giving them a safe place to a build a new life. Thousands of volunteer hours went into remodeling the medical facility to once again be a place of healing and hope. 

Then in 2004, the Portland Rescue Mission board gave Jan Marshall, then Shepherd’s Door director, the freedom she needed to think outside the box and expand the program and the building so that more women and children could be served. Thousands of donors stepped up and today the Shepherd’s Door campus is a thriving place of light, beauty, safety and laughter for women and children. The entire program is centered on generational healing of women and children. Children can make new memories and regain their childhood while women are set up for success, building trust and skills to walk into a new future. 

The Harbor

The ribbon cutting, marking the opening of The Harbor, Portland Rescue Mission’s long-term recovery program for men.

Like Shepherd’s Door, The Harbor is a long-term restoration program for men. The Harbor is a place where men will find support and guidance as they hammer out daily victories over the hopelessness and isolation that seems too great to overcome. At The Harbor they find tangible hope, forgiveness and honest, trust-filled relationships – so that the need to numb the heartache falls away. Once men find stability, recovery and restoration the Men’s New Life Ministry at The Harbor trains and prepares men for success in their future vocation. Upon completion of the program, one of the biggest fears for many graduates is whether or not they will find work. 

Vocation Training

Portland Rescue Mission’s catering ministry, Mission Bar-B-Que allows for men and women in recovery to receive vocational training.

So Portland Rescue Mission added vocational ministry. Teamwork, responsibility, integrity and servanthood are just a few of the values that drive the vocational ministry. Mission Bar-B-Que, and Drive Away Hunger are just two of the ways Portland Rescue Mission provides tools to those in our recovery program so they can confidently walk into the next chapter of life.

Connect for Men and Women

In 2015, Portland Rescue Mission began providing short-term residential programming for homeless women at our Burnside Shelter. Connect for women provides up to 16 women with relational support and stability through meals, a bed, and assistance toward employment and housing. 

Portland Rescue Mission then expanded our program to men. Connect participants receive nightly shelter, three meals a day and practical support in career planning, finding housing, job searches, and integration into a healthy community. Men and women like Cornell are finding that they are wanted and loved, stabilizing and getting a second chance to a new life. 

The Next 70 Years

The newly renovated office at Portland Rescue Mission’s Burnside Shelter.

Today Portland Rescue Mission is looking towards the future. The last few years has been a time of restoration for our own historic Burnside building. Burnside has seen a lot in its long life. With a new roof, new kitchen, new lobby and safety upgrades throughout – thanks to our generous donors and sponsors – the Burnside shelter will continue to be a lifeline for people like Don, offering a place for healing, connection and a way back home. Join Us! Be a Part of the Next 70 Years. 

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