By Jack Rubinger
It’s midday on a weekday on Hawthorne Blvd. and Uri Kushner, owner of Dairy Hill Ice Cream, is mad as hell. There’s a guy passed out, sprawled out in his tiny parking space, and he’s been left on hold trying to reach several city agencies for help.
“Is this a job for SOLVE? Is this a job for Central City Concern? Is this a job for Portland Street Response? Of the three agencies, I just hope one of them shows up,” he said.
“The city is absolutely broken and we get zero response from the city,” he said. “There’s all these different groups throughout the city, but we still get no help when it comes to the homeless and cleaning up our city streets. It’s not about solutions. There is no solution, so let’s just get past that.”
Kushner said the city told him that federal funding was coming to help with clean-up efforts, but all that got was eight garbage cans for the area stretching from SE 10th St. to SE 50th St.
“I want to see them roll up their sleeves and pick up garbage,” he said.
Kushner feels that it’s critical to make the connection between people who live in the neighborhood and people who work in the neighborhood to clean up the neighborhood.
Now he and several volunteers, including Hannah Wallace and Vincent Dawans, associated with the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association (HBBA), are taking matters into their own hands.
Their plan calls for weekly volunteer clean-ups to be conducted every Monday at 11 am, meeting at SE 36th Ave. and Hawthorne Blvd. The Monday session focuses on the stretch of Hawthorne Blvd. from SE 34th Ave. to SE 38th Ave.
There’s also a monthly clean-up which takes place on the second Saturday of the month, meeting at Dairy Hill Ice Cream, for more in-depth cleaning from SE 10th Ave. to SE 52nd Ave. Volunteers are asked to just show up. No sign ups are necessary.
Currently, there’s one homeless camp in front of Dairy Hill Ice Cream. Kushner is predicting that homeless camps will grow and spread as the warm weather approaches. Along with the camps come more garbage.
Yet some of the garbage problems are created by local residents who think they’re doing good by “donating” their worn out couches to the city streets.
In many cases, people in homeless camps don’t want a bunch of old, wet, filthy couches. If you ask them what is really needed, it’s things like showers, a place to do laundry, sleeping bags, hats and clothing.
That’s where Hannah Wallace steps in. Wallace does outreach with the homeless in the area. She’s good at talking to people and helping other volunteers like Dawans pick up trash. Wallace has helped set up shower and laundry services at the Sunnyside Methodist Church, 3520 SE Yamhill St.
“Some homeless folks are trying to encourage others in camps to clean up the camp sites,” she said. “We’ll go and knock on tents and ask, ‘What do you need?’”
Wallace is working on relationship-building and focusing on cleaning one area at a time. “If there’s a camp near you, then you have skin in the game.”
The church is accepting donations, which they sort and clean. They ask that people wishing to make donations use the Yamhill side of the church.
Dawans has been coordinating clean-ups for the area for about a year, including the AdoptOneBlock program, in which residents clean near where they live. “You don’t have to travel 10 miles to pick up trash,” he said.
The HBBA clean ups and the AdoptOneBlock clean-ups seem to be intersecting. Dawans and about a half a dozen volunteers showed up to join in on the Monday HBBA clean up hour recently.
Dawans has helped create a mobile clean up kit for volunteers including a large rubber trash bin, a flat head shovel, a broom, a trash picker and extra bags.
He has also adopted the block by the Walgreens at SE Belmont St. and César E. Chavez Blvd., which he calls a high needs block. Along with a neighbor, he cleans up every week. Another area they focus on is Sunnyside School.
If nobody’s using a tent, they might get rid of it. It’s just takes observation over time. There is no outreach from the city.
“We’re literally on our own and just doing the best we can,” Dawans said.
Dan Beard, another neighbor, showed up for the first HBBA clean up session. Beard is volunteering access to dumpsters, along with Kushner. The principal at Sunnyside School is offering the use of their dumpster for trash collected.
Dawans’ plan is to send an email the day before each Monday clean up session and hope folks show up.
“I send emails at the last minute on purpose, because I don’t want people to feel that they’ve got to adhere to a schedule. If you’ve got an hour, just show up,” he said.
Volunteers interested in helping out should contact Uri Kushner: email@example.com.
“This is only the second Monday session here. As we start engaging, the trash level drops, and it becomes much more manageable,” Dawans said.
Kushner added, “I have a vision of having birthday parties outside my store for kids when the weather gets nice, and making the area beautiful, but I want kids and families to feel safe. Who’s ever heard of an angry ice cream man?”