Concert aims to ease burden on homeless

It was in the dead of fall and on the cusp of winter when John Ripley first heard the statistics about homeless deaths in Portland – 21 homeless died here in 2008.

By Christmas, Ripley, who works in advertising, decided to do something about it.

On Sunday, May 17, the idea he sprouted will run from 11 a.m. to midnight. "Acts for Change: The Preble Street Benefit Concert" aims to raise money for homeless services with an all-day concert interspersed with comedy acts. A regional who’s who list of bands and comedians is filling the bill for the event, which will take place at The Asylum on Center Street.

"The entire music community of Portland is behind this," Ripley said in an interview Wednesday, when the concert was unveiled.

"Acts for Change: The Preble Street Benefit Concert" is a concert to raise money for Preble Street, the nonprofit
that helps the homeless in Portland. The benefit concert has attracted more than 20 of Portland’s top music and comedy acts and aims to raise money for the Preble Street
Resource Center, headquartered at 18 Portland St. The concert will be held from approximately noon to midnight Sunday, May 17, at The Asylum on Center Street. Doors open at 11 a.m. Tickets are $15, and are available at all Bull Moose locations.

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"When you go out and about, there’s a great buzz about this. Times are hard for people, but it brings out the best in people," he said.
The all-volunteer concert is a response to reports that 21 homeless people died on the streets of Portland in 2008, as well as record demands on Preble Street’s services. For example, Preble Street now serves some 9,000 meals each month for breakfast alone.

The musical list includes Spencer Albee (As Fast As, Rustic Overtones, Spencer and the School Spirit Mafia), Tony McNaboe (Rustic Overtones), This Way, Sly Chi, Eric Bettencourt, Adam Kurtz, Royal Hammer, Grupo Esperanza, and Jacob Augustine, among many others, Ripley announced in a press release this week. Comedy talents include headliner George Hamm, Brian Brinegar, Seth Bond Perry, with more additions possible in the coming weeks, he announced.

"The response has just been astounding," Ripley said.

Jay Basiner, leader of local band This Way, said when Ripley contacted him with the idea for a benefit concert, he jumped at the chance not only to perform but also to help organize the event. Billy Lynch, manager of This Way, and Justin Hendrickson, talent buyer at The Asylum, also spearheaded the event, he said.

"The time is right for this kind of event. I think that’s why we’ve seen so much support," he said.

Elena Schmidt, director of development at Preble Street, said about 600 people rely on the city’s shelters every day, and the numbers are growing.

"There are huge numbers of homeless people in Portland," she said. "The economy is making things harder. It’s affecting the kind of person we see. The volume is going up.

… Where it’s really affecting us is in places like our food pantry, families that formerly were able to take care of themselves no longer can do so."

The figure of 21 homeless who died in 2008 is a number that only fluctuates slightly from year to year, Schmidt said. It may range from the low twenties to the low thirties, but the homeless are more vulnerable to disease and tend to have a lower life expectancy due to the rigors of surviving on the street, she noted.

Donations from the concert can help improve lives of homeless and in many cases avert the early mortality of the homeless, Schmidt said.

Basiner said he and other organizers of the concert paid a personal visit to Preble Street to see for themselves what goes on.

"I would say the majority of these people simply have lost their job, have lost resources," he said.

Ripley said the concert organizers plan to remain hands off in how the proceeds of the concert are spent.

"That’s something that we’re going to leave up to Preble Street. With the concert, we’re going to give all of the donations to them. We’re going to ask people to bring food items and things like toothpaste," he said.

They also plan to develop a compact disc of the concert and sell it to raise money for the homeless, Ripley said.

"This is just a chance, it’s sort of the pebble in the pond effect, the ripple effect from this has just been phenomenal," he said.

Basiner said civic duty and community service underpin his involvement. While he embraced the idea of crowds filling the 600-person venue to see their favorites bands and comic acts, the goal won’t be lost in the shuffle, he vowed.

"I think we will be playing for a packed house, but we hope people just come and support this cause, because it means a lot to us," he said.