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Oregon Humanities’ ‘Dear Stranger’ pen-pal project invites Oregonians to write letters to each other about shelter

Oregon Humanities

PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) — Many of the most pressing issues facing Oregon today relate to some form of shelter, be it housing, citizenship, personal safety, or even shade. Questions about who deserves shelter, and what kind, and where, and how it should be paid for, show up daily in media, public meetings, and private conversations.

These questions can be hard to ask and harder to answer, and that’s why Oregon Humanities is inviting Oregonians to write about shelter for the fall round of Dear Stranger, a letter-exchange project in which people make connections by sending a letter to someone they’ve never met.

Oregon Humanities is a statewide organization that brings people together to talk, listen, and learn from one another. "Dear Stranger asks us to intentionally reflect and share about our experiences,” says Lucy Solares-Steger, the program coordinator at Oregon Humanities who runs the Dear Stranger project. “While at first this can be daunting or challenging, many letter writers find that they’re able to work through these experiences by writing them out, and through this, make a really impactful connection with another person."

The aim of Dear Stranger is to create shared understanding among Oregonians with different backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs. The premise is simple: Write a letter, get a letter, and make a new connection. Oregon Humanities has operated Dear Stranger since 2014, with each round of the project asking writers to address a different question or theme. More than one thousand Oregonians have exchanged letters through the project to date.

This fall’s prompt for writers is, “Write about what comes to mind when you think of shelter. Think about home, sanctuaries, and refuge of all kinds. You can write about finding shelter or losing shelter, safety, and protection. What kinds of dangers do we seek shelter from? You might also consider: What constitutes a house, and how is that different from a home? What makes your home feel like home?”

Instructions for participation are available on the Oregon Humanities website at Letters are swapped anonymously, and each person receives a letter from the person who received the one they wrote. What happens next is up to the writers. If they’d like to write a reply, they can do so through Oregon Humanities.

Letters should be addressed to Oregon Humanities, Attn: Dear Stranger, 610 SW Alder St., Suite 1111, Portland, Oregon, 97205. For this round, Oregon Humanities will exchange letters mailed by October 31, 2023.

Questions about Dear Stranger should be directed to

Oregon Humanities connects people and communities through conversation, storytelling, and participatory programs to inspire understanding and collaborative change. More information about our programs and publications—which include the Conversation Project, Consider This, Humanity in Perspective, Public Program Grants, So Much Together, and Oregon Humanities magazine—can be found at Oregon Humanities is an independent, nonprofit affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities and a partner of the Oregon Cultural Trust.

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