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'We're here, we're not leaving': Old Town nonprofit continues to serve amid growing violence

Union Gospel Mission leaders believe a new strain of methamphetamine may be increasing erratic behavior and be partly responsible for increased violence in Old Town.

PORTLAND, Oregon — In Portland’s Old Town, the recent streak of deadly violence is not lost on those who serve people in that neighborhood.

"It's disconcerting, obviously," said Jason Christensen, executive director for Union Gospel Mission on Northwest 3rd Avenue and Burnside Street. "We've had to take measures in terms of staff. We walk with each other, it's just being extra vigilant."

Union Gospel Mission provides homeless services and a program for men recovering from addiction. For Christensen, watching the violence unfold hurts.

"We have people that are really killing themselves on an installment plan," he said.

On Tuesday morning, police responded to a deadly stabbing on Northwest 5th Avenue and Davis Street. Court documents indicate the suspect, 31-year-old Judyann Edmond, stabbed 38-year-old Stephanie Hack in the neck multiple times. Hack later died at the hospital.

RELATED: Police identify victim in fatal stabbing in Old Town

Police found Edmond in a nearby tent. The man she was with told officers that he and Edmond had just smoked meth together before they arrived. Court papers went on to say that Edmond told officers that a man standing nearby during the stabbing was her grandfather, and that, "his eyes told her she had to ... do it to stop the pain and to save people."

For Christensen, a crime like that points to growing and changing concerns over drugs.

"In the last six months, there's been this new strain of methamphetamine, it's fentanyl-laced, that's going around," Christensen said. "What we have seen is a little more erratic behavior among users."

For that reason, Union Gospel Mission is continuing to serve meals to-go, rather than bringing guests indoors again, which they had hoped to be doing by now.

"Because of the volatility, it only takes one individual that we have to be very careful and measured about things," Christensen said.

RELATED: Fatal victim from weekend shooting in Portland's Old Town neighborhood identified by police

Much of the recent violence is also gun-related. On Friday, police said 19-year-old Lauren Abbott Jr. was shot and killed near Northwest 5th Avenue and Couch Street. Two others were injured. And over the weekend in the same area, there was another shooting. Police said a man was shot in the torso. He lived despite the dozens of bullet casings left behind.

Christiansen said Union Gospel Mission continues to see beyond the violence, while trying to serve others.

"We're here, we're not leaving, this is our neighborhood, we're very proud of it," Christensen said. "We clean our sidewalks twice a day and we want to be a beacon of hope for the neighborhood."

VIDEO: Shooting in Portland's Old Town leaves 1 dead, 2 injured

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