LoveTalks Baby is the brainchild of newlywed husband and wife Adam Winiecki and Linda Barnett. In their previous lives, Adam was an IT security manager for Ebay while Linda was a successful business owner and advocate for children with behavioral disabilities and their families. After a series of personal tragedies including nearly dying from an autoimmune disorder, Linda experienced 8 years of homelessness with her youngest daughter. During this time, she experienced first hand the systemic problems and failures which keep people in cycles of poverty, homelessness, and hopelessness.
Drawing on her experience as a businesswoman and advocate Linda began to develop a vision for a different way of helping the homeless, built around their specific needs and limitations. Instead of trying to force people experiencing homelessness to conform to the demands and needs of those who sought to serve them, she decided to turn the social service model on its head and conform to the needs of the homeless population, many of whom are dealing with mental health issues, disabilities like autism, severe trauma and chronic health issues. She imagined a model for serving this population that treated them as valued human beings, worthy of good things rather than a problem to be solved.
Linda and Adam met while attending the same church and began working together to distribute food to people on the streets of Portland every week. They'd stop to talk and pray with anyone who wanted it. Adam often brought his guitar with to play with other musicians on the street and connect with people through music. Over time they began to gain the trust of members of the homeless community and learned about the specific issues they were facing. When possible, they'd obtain tents, shoes, phones, sleeping bags and other necessities for people. Because Linda is autistic and a trauma survivor, she was often able to step in to help deescalate situations involving homeless people who were in trauma or dealing with communication and emotional challenges when problems arose with local property owners and law enforcement. In addition to directly serving the homeless, Linda and Adam acted as consultants for other groups trying to start efforts to help the local homeless population. In the process of all of this, LoveTalks Baby began to take form.
In mid-March of this year, COVID-19 hit and the state of Oregon was abruptly shut down. The homeless were left on the streets with no bathroom access or running water to fend for themselves as the restaurants boarded up and the foot traffic dried up. Social service agencies cut back their operations and ministries feeding the poor stopped operations. Watching this all happen, Linda and Adam were very concerned for their friends living on the streets. They were also keenly aware that under conditions where people lacked access to the most basic necessities of life, the potential for violence and acting out was high and the subsequent backlash from such acts could further alienate the wider community from the homeless population. With an impending disaster crashing down on the people who they loved, Linda and Adam decided to take a leap of faith and began implementing plans for a mobile crisis unit that they'd been developing.
They switched from distributing donated food once a week to distributing homecooked meals every night in the Burnside Bridge area. Soon, they obtained a propane cooking rig and began preparing meals on site. They put out tables and chairs for people to sit and eat. Then came the carpet and a love seat for people to rest and relax. Art supplies, music and movies came next. When they were forced to move out of the UOP parking garage into an open area, they brought in tents and began creating separate spaces for people to eat, pray, watch movies, make music and relax. Linda and Adam began bringing in tea lights, tablecloths, and string lights to create a warm, inviting atmosphere. Today, our mobile crisis unit sets up a bit of home for those who have none every weeknight where our Street Family gathers to eat, relax, socialize and just be for a few hours.
While the COVID-19 lockdowns have been hard on everyone, they've turned out to be a special time of grace for the homeless community in Portland. In a typical year, the homeless will move in closer to the city center during the winter. Being in the city is safer for people living on the streets and gives them better access to social services, food, public transportation. However, once the weather starts to turn, their encampments are cleared out and they're pushed out of the city center as tourists and residents return in the spring. After surviving a winter on the streets, people are sick, physically weak and struggling, so this yearly transition tends to be very traumatic and sparks the kinds of outburst that give the homeless a bad reputation with some. This year with everything shut down, they were allowed to remain in place. As the state opens up, the time will come that they have to move again, but this year they will be in a better place physically, mentally and emotionally and have a network of relationships to depend on.
But for now there's a party going on for the homeless every night on the streets of Portland, courtesy of LoveTalks Baby. People are finding healing, hope and community often for the first time in their lives. Linda and Adam are in the process of working with local officials to create an orderly transition from lockdown to reopening for those they serve and will set up their mobile crisis unit where ever the people are. They're still dreaming big and are making plans to obtain a food truck that will give them more flexibility to operate out of. They're also in the process of standardizing their model so it can be replicated in other places. Because Street Family is worth it. If you'd like to support the work of LoveTalks Baby, please check out our store for current needs or to make a cash donation. To get involved in other ways, please contact us.
"Street family - where life begins and love never ends"