PORTLAND, Ore. -- This month, dozens of teenagers are coming from Washington, Idaho, Missouri, Oklahoma and a handful of other states to spruce up Portland’s organized, established homeless camps.

The trip, which brings teens here in shifts over the course of a few weeks, is organized by Portland’s Agape Church of Christ.

It’s an annual event, but attendees normally donate their time to a variety of causes including senior centers. This year, they’re focusing on Portland’s housing crisis.

Dr. Ron Clark, a minister at the church, is a member of Portland’s Village Coalition.

“It's a good way to start young people early to see this is an issue we want to address, and it takes people working together,” he said.

On Wednesday, a group of about 15 teenagers scraped old paint off of the community center at Northeast Portland’s Dignity Village.

Teens help paint a Portland homeless camp
Teens help paint a Portland homeless camp

“I don't even know how to start,” said 18-year-old Julia Sordahl, of Federal Way, Washington. “Like, it's one of the best experiences you could ever have.”

Sordahl had been on the trip in years past, but said the kids’ experience was limited to a one-night visit with homeless men and women under the Burnside Bridge.

Eli McCoy, 17, said the organized camps were striking in an entirely different way.

“The city has really embraced their homeless population and hasn't said, 'You guys can't be here,’” he said. “But it has said, 'Here's an area where you guys can make your home and stay safe.'”

Clark said church leaders plan to bring groups back to a number of Portland camps in shifts. They’ll visit Hazelnut Grove and the Kenton Women’s Village, among others.

By the end of next week, they hope to have finished projects at each. That includes repainting the exterior of Dignity Village’s community center and replacing its roof.

“We've had adult groups come in, and none of them will come help in any of these projects,” said Clark. “So, the youth groups do very well.”

He added a lot of the residents talked to the kids as they worked.

Todd Henderson, who’s lived in the camp for a year-and-a-half, is one of them.

“There are people that will say it’s almost a ‘scared straight’ kind of thing, and that's not the case,” he said. “This is community service to help out the less fortunate. There should be a factor where you look at it and you say, 'Wow. It can happen to anybody, including myself.’”