By Jack Rubinger
Whether you live, work or shop in the Hawthorne neighborhood, it would be almost impossible not to feel emotionally disgusted with the scene in front of Dairy Hill Ice Cream. This newspaper has been following changes on Hawthorne with an article in January about neighborhood cleanup efforts, led by Uri Kushner from Dairy Hill Ice Cream, and other friends and neighbors.
At the time, there was a lot of head shaking, disappointment and discouragement. Recently things have brightened up considerably. Early morning dog walkers noticed that the homeless camp was gone, replaced with shiny, plant-filled aluminum tubs.
Kushner laid out how it went from the previous situation to where it is now. On Friday, March 11, there were two posts put up declaring the campsite a biohazard and stating it would be cleared in three to 10 days.
“When I saw that, I reached out to Vincent Dawans and Dan Beard, two neighborhood folks that have been helping with clean ups, and we put a plan together,” said Kushner, going on to say, “We noticed small metal planters on SE 37th by Moberi Healthy Smoothies and thought that those would be perfect. Beard and I purchased 10 bins from Wilco Farm Supply. The camp was cleared later in the week. Beard put up caution tape and ordered soil to be delivered.”
After the soil arrived, Kushner said, “While Beard, Dawans and I were shoveling the soil into the bins, a few neighbors spontaneously came out to help. One of them then went and bought 40 flowers and plants and planted them herself.”
That flower power came from Korina Keaton, an artist and painter, who planted a mixture of Pacific Northwest plants: bright colored annuals, herbs like lavender and rosemary, native grasses and peppers for pops of color. Keaton has lived in the neighborhood for eight years.
Kushner explained that there were fewer and fewer actual people living in the camp and that it was turning more into a garbage dump. In discussions with neighbors, several ideas were tossed around for what Kushner calls “our little corner,” including boulders, but ADA status and the sidewalk were a concern. Concerns were raised about what is to prevent another camp from rising up on the site.
“Neighbors in the area have been taking pictures of the camp in front of the store and reporting twice a week about the situation to the city,” said Kushner. He had heard that there had been an uptick in efforts to clean up the city right around the time of the NCAA tournament.
According to the City of Portland’s Homeless and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program, the Impact Reduction Team cleaned and removed camps at SE Cesar Chavez Blvd., north of SE Oak St.; SE 162nd Ave. and SE Alder St.; SE 3rd Ave. and SE Oak St. to SE Pine St.; SE 2nd Ave. and SE Oak St.; and SE 36th Ave. and SE Hawthorne Blvd. around the time frame Kushner described.
The Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program assesses each location, helps clean up trash and debris, and evaluates health and safety risks.
“Since the January article in The Southeast Examiner appeared, it seems services like Central City Concern have been making themselves more accessible and more responsive,” said Kushner. “We’re increasing lighting at the store, too.”
Neighbor Beard, with Beard’s Restoration and Remodeling LLC., said, “This situation has been tough on business and tough for people who frequent these businesses. If we can all pitch in, we can all benefit.” Beard, who’s been living in the area since 1992, keeps cans of paint with him and covers spots that have been hit with graffiti, hopefully encouraging vandals to go elsewhere.
Beard knows the neighborhood well from working on everything from small kitchen and bath remodels to two-story additions to full-house renovations and new construction.
Nancy Chapin, from the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association, was near Dairy Hill Ice Cream for a Monday morning cleanup when the city had made the decision to close the campsite and an officer came to post the timeline for it to be cleared. Kushner also explained that Chapin offered some funds to help with clean-up, so everyone submitted their receipts.
The entire cost for the boxes, soil and plants totaled $2,483.87, according to Chapin.
“We have reimbursed Kushner and Keaton fully and Beard for the soil out of our Clean up and Safety Fund. We still owe Beard $1,200 for the planters he purchased. I will be setting up a GoFundMe for our community to replenish the fund and fully reimburse him,” said Chapin.
“We’ve gotten so many compliments,” Keaton said. “We’ve come together as a community. I’m proud about helping make our community safer and cleaner. We’ve all been able to sleep better at night seeing people walking down the sidewalk.”
Planters on SE 36th Ave. photo by Dairy Hill Ice Cream