Portland police officer photographed buying food for homeless man

A KATU viewer captured the moment Portland Police Officer Karl Sprague handed a homeless man some food near Southwest Bond Street and Gaines. (KATU viewer-submitted photo)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KATU) - Portland Police Officer Karl Sprague had no idea anyone was scrutinizing his recent interaction with a homeless man in Southwest Portland.

"I was responding to a call," said Sprague. "It was a welfare check at Southwest Bond Street at Southwest Gaines. It was regarding a possible drunk male that was stepping into traffic. Someone was concerned for his welfare and safety."

It's the kind of call one might consider routine. Sprague arrived on scene and immediately spotted the man. He soon realized things weren't what they seemed.

"He seemed articulate when I asked him questions," said Sprague. "He didn't appear drunk or high. There didn't seem to be any mental health issues involved."

Despite all that, the man seemed despondent.

"He was more defeated," said Sprague.

Sprague soon learned the man was homeless and had been battling a drug problem. The man told him he felt there was no way out of the spin cycle he was currently in.

"So, I asked him, when's the last time he had something to eat?" said Sprague. "He didn't know."

Sprague saw this as a critical opening. He walked into a nearby burger joint and ordered the man some food.

"If someone's eating, they're feeling a little better," said Sprague. "The thing is to give a little hope. If you can give a little hope, that's sort of an anti-drug to me. I know it's just a burger. To people, it's a little thing, but it's a big thing to him."

A KATU viewer just happened to notice what was happening and photographed Sprague right as he was giving the man food.

"Other officers do the same thing I did," said Sprague. "They do it all the time. It's just not seen, I guess."

Sprague says he discussed with the man how to make small goals for the immediate future. He then passed along various resources where the man could get help. He patted the man on the shoulder and then left.

"I felt hopeful," said Sprague. "I don't think I solved his life problems, but I hope I planted a seed in him."

Sprague says the interaction is just one small example of the kind of community policing that goes on daily across the city. He knows police officers have a tarnished reputation in the eyes of some people.

"I've been in a situation where I'm helping someone and a car will stop. They'll roll down the window and say I'm disgusting," he said. "The perception is that maybe I'm bothering someone or harassing someone. People will think, first thing, that cops harass people. Maybe give us the benefit of the doubt. We're not out there day to day slugging it out. We're not against the public. We're there to help the people in front of us and sometimes that message gets lost."

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