How Portland teenagers are fighting the city’s homeless crisis

How Portland teenagers are fighting the city’s homeless crisis

Hank Sanders is only 17, but he knows exactly how fortunate he is to have a roof over his head and food to eat.

That’s because once a week, he and 20 to 30 of his classmates at Lincoln High School in Portland, Oregon, have dinner with the area’s homeless youth. First they cook, and then they eat — together.

“It makes you open up your eyes,” Sanders told NBC News. “You are so much more grateful for every single thing that you have, for every dollar that you're given, for every meal that is on your plate.”

Sanders started the program CardsCook — the school mascot is a cardinal — two years ago as a way to integrate himself and his classmates with Portland’s less fortunate youth. According to officials with Multnomah County, where Portland is, there are at least 700 to 800 homeless teens in the county at any given time, a number indicative of an even larger crisis that the city has been battling for years.Government officials declared the homeless problem a “state of emergency” three years ago, citing a lack of affordable housing as one of the leading factors.

The concept of CardsCook is simple: Student volunteers get together at a church where they prepare a planned menu of healthy meals that they can make in large quantities. When they’re done cooking, they grab some of the food and join everyone while they eat, talk and play games.

“We play the same video games, we read the same books, we watch the same movies,” Sanders said. “We can relate. So with every single meal, we’re making that connection stronger.

Since it began, CardsCook has served 27,000 meals and raised thousands of dollars for the community. Perhaps their biggest contribution, however, is listening.

“They actually come out and they talk with us and they interact,” said Kyle Pillsbury, a homeless 29-year-old who attends the dinners every week. “It’s humanizing.”

Watch the report below.

Get Email Updates