By Midge Pierce
Caught between crime and compassion, residents along the commercial corridors and tree-lined streets of SE are in a quandary about how to solve problems the City can’t: namely crime and safety. To seek solutions, community members are reaching out to City officials to attend a mid-month Town Hall.
Local commerce is on the front lines. Hilda Stevens, president of the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association, has experienced a recent break-in at her home, plus two at her Hawthorne Business and an attack from an unleashed dog owned by a vagrant.
As owner of Bazi Bierbrasserie, a Belgian-inspired beer and soccer pub at SE 32nd and Hawthorne, Stevens joins the ranks of too many other entrepreneurs and residents who feel they live in a “culture of lawlessness”.
That culture has threatened passers-by with machetes, staged an armed robbery at the popular Gold Dust Meridian, broken into the Hawthorne Goodwill and vandalized multiple small businesses and homes that bind together the community.
HBBA has hired a part-time private security company paid for by small businesses on thin margins to make the street safer during daytime hours. Sunnyside residents have formed a foot patrol that collects reports for the PDX Reporter app (pdxreporter.org) about graffiti, detritus, squatters in empty buildings and homeless camps, one walker labels “Wheelervilles”.
Neither effort is enough. Stevens says business in the area is down 15 to 20 percent.
“For two years, we’ve been hearing that police are understaffed,” says Stevens. “Local businesses that can ill afford to pay for private security are having to compensate for police not doing their job. I would like the City to enforce the policies it has in place.”
When businesses that already pay taxes and operational fees have to seek outside security, they end up paying twice, she says. Those costs are eventually passed along to customers.
“Most of us work hard and abide by the laws. We have a right to conduct business and feel safe.”
Wary residents say the City is ignoring a sharp increase in serious incidents. Discontent is not limited to SE either. Nearly one third of residents have considered leaving town according to a survey first reported in The Portland Tribune.
Stevens understands the anger burning through neighbors who find needles in parks and school grounds, strangers camped on doorsteps, fires in garbage cans and vagrants gathered en masse who intimidate passers-by, knowing the paucity of police presence and enforcement.
Online posts complain that the City is soft on crime, listening only to the squeakiest wheels.
“A very small group – some just our usual local “anarchist hobbyists – have seized the ear of the mayor’s office and are only too ready to criticize police,” says Alice from South Tabor.
If others went to every council meeting with safety concerns, policies would change, she says. “But we have jobs and homes and kids and stuff, so it’s usually people without those things who have the time to storm meetings.”
Other postings call for understanding causes of crime, drug abuse and the heartbreak of homelessness. Stevens respects the position. “The City absolutely must help its most needy. But the commercial community needs support too. It’s like a slap on the head when we don’t feel safe.”
The November 16 grassroots meeting with representatives from the Mayor’s office and the Central Precinct will be held at Taborspace at SE 55th and Belmont, from 6:30 – 8:30 pm. Neighborhood Associations are being asked to share their top three concerns.