COOS BAY – Don Ford, a minister at Harmony United Methodist Church, is known for his work helping the Bay Area’s homeless community. The homeless camp he operates is the culmination of nearly 30 years of helping those in need.
Ford has been involved in the ministry since the early '90’s. To his recollection, he’s always been part of the United Methodist Church but got a call to join the ministry while living in Colorado.
He began working with the homeless in Pagosa Springs in 1999. He said there was a need to help those living in poverty there and the church started a fund for community projects. One of these projects was the Pagosa Outreach Connection, which brought faith-based groups, local government, and other organizations together to provide help to those in need.
“More of us together can do more than one entity could,” he said of the group’s mindset.
He’s also helped with programs that guide people from poverty to self-sufficiency. Ford remembered they would try to have participants understand the mindset of the other side, with those living in poverty thinking about a middle class lifestyle and middle class people thinking what it’s like to live in poverty.
“They do think differently,” he said. “So one needs to understand how another class of people think and do things, and the reasons they do things, to understand them more.”
Ford began teaching classes across the country to help people understand those living in poverty, eventually settling in Washington State. He and his wife lived there for about three years, working on similar programs in the area. From there, they came to Coos Bay.
Ford said he saw the need for programs to help the homeless, or those living in poverty, and decided to work to start the camp. Since then, the camp has only grown and improved. Ford said it’s gratifying to know he has the support of the church and city, as well as the police and other partner organizations, for his activities.
He added that he can’t say whether he’s making a difference in people’s lives, but that he’s living what he believes. He’s loving God and others, and reaching out to help those in need.
Ford added it’s been great to see everyone coming together to help each other during the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he wishes it didn’t take a global health crisis to accomplish, but added that something good can come out of something bad.
“It’s a great, gratifying thing,” he said of the recent outpouring of goodwill.
Ford recalled there’s lots of profiling and misconceptions about the homeless, or those living in poverty. He said his experience has been that most people are living in poverty because of circumstances beyond their control. He has met widows who lost everything when their spouse passed, people who were laid off from work or live on very limited income just trying to make ends meet, and people who have never known any other option for how to live.
Ford also recalled hearing people say homeless should ‘go back where they came from’ and accusations of people coming from outside the area. He countered that, in his experience, many of the homeless in the Bay Area are locals.
“I started taking a survey and 40% of people in this camp are born and raised and from Coos County,” he said. “So that doesn’t necessarily mean ‘make everybody go home,’ because a lot of them are home.”
Ford stressed that he isn’t doing any of this for praise or any similar accolades. He said he believes helping the less fortunate is the right thing to do, and something he’s drawn to do with his faith.