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 sandiwiches. 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.
Gary Davis served as our Executive Director for nearly a decade. Over his tenure, Gary greatly expanded the vision of Nightwatch. The outreach created under his leadership has responded to the needs of homeless folks outside the downtown area. In addition to a Hospitality Center that is now well established in the SE quadrant of the city and a Mobile Hospitality Center being put into service to respond to homeless clusters elsewhere, work was done with groups in North Portland, Vancouver, and Woodburn to get their own programs working there. Furthermore, nurses were brought on board to tend to guests’ medical needs and a specialist to focus on mental health issues. The growth brought about during Gary's tenure continues to thrive and meet the unique needs of our guests throughout the Portland Metro Area.
Our current Executive Director is Paul Underwood. Paul has a wide range of life experiences, ranging from home builder to door-to-door work with OPB. Most recently, Paul served as Director at NAMI, where he continues to teach Family to Family classes and lead hikes and mountaineering courses. Paul has a passion for mental health, and is currently working to bring Peer Support Specialists to our Hospitality Centers, with the belief that having supportive services from people who have been in our guests' shoes can bring deeper hope, community and healing.