Under the leadership of its first director, Gary Vaughan, ONW began as a street ministry, its volunteers approaching the homeless in the doorways, loading docks, and campsites where they were bedded down for the evening. In time, a Hospitality Center was established, to which the homeless and other low-income people could gather with others for the evening, socializing, sharing stories, and playing games over coffee and sandiwches. The downtown Hospitality Center has since become the hub of Nightwatch's activities, from its foot care clinics to its monthly Birthday Nights and Comedy Movie Nights. It also is a place where people can be supplied with blankets, clothing, and personal hygiene items at a time of day when no other helping agency is open.
Operation Nightwatch is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, governed by a Board of Directors. The work of its second Executive Director, Debbie Coppenger, did much to set Nightwatch on a stable institutional and fiscal footing. Operation Nightwatch continues to be funded primarily by individual donations, along with some small foundation grants. ONW also receives critical volunteer and monetary support from a roster of churches ranging across the theological spectrum. ONW is a member of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.
Our current Executive Director, Gary Davis, has expanded the vision of Nightwatch. Its outreach has sought to respond to the needs of homeless folks outside the downtown area. In addition to a Hospitality Center being established in the SE quadrant of the city and a Mobile Hospitality Center being put into service to respond to homeless clusters elsewhere, work has been done with groups in North Portland, Vancouver, and Woodburn to get their own programs working there. Furthermore, nurses have been brought on board to tend to guests medical needs and a specialist to focus on mental health issues. As Nightwatch identifies sites and means it can increase its effectiveness even further, it will seek the resources to respond.