Getting to Know Your Neighbors: Jay Parasco and Jenny Lee

I met Jay Parasco and Jenny Lee through Percy, a friendly black and white tabby who wandered past my window a few weeks ago. This sweet collarless cat was clearly domesticated—he even tried to enter our house—so I walked from neighbor to neighbor to ask if anyone knew who Percy belonged to. (Percy helpfully followed me up each neighbor’s steps to each doorway!) SNA board member Ash Hester agreed to watch Percy while I ran a quick errand, and that’s when she ran into Jay and Jenny, cat lovers who were out on a masked walk. They agreed to take Percy to their house until the owner could be found. They were able to track down Percy’s owner, Ellie Murphy, on Nextdoor.com; within the hour both cat and owner were re-united.

It turns out that Jay and Jenny both have extensive experience working on houseless issues. Jay, who is a communications and political strategist at Union SEIU Local 503, is on the Board of Street Roots. In Honolulu, where the couple previously lived, he was the Homeless Initiatives Coordinator for the city. Jenny, Deputy Director of the Coalition of Communities of Color, is a member of the oversight committee for Metro Measure 26-210, the supportive housing services measure that goes into effect this month. (In Hawaii and her first few years back in Portland, she worked on housing advocacy issues.)

How long have you lived in Sunnyside?

Jenny: I moved back here in 2016.

Jay: I followed her here in 2017—I had to finish up law school.

So, Jenny are you from Oregon?

Jenny: Yeah. My family moved to Beaverton when I was in middle school.

Do you guys rent or own?

Jenny: Right now we’re renting. But hopefully, we’re gonna try to purchase soon.

What do you love about Sunnyside?

Jenny: When I came home to visit my family, this is the neighborhood I would hang out in. I love Paradox and Sweet Hereafter, and Noun has been a long-time favorite store. I’d go to Hoda’s when I was in high school! In a lot of ways, Hawthorne/Sunnyside is the neighborhood that has changed the least in Portland. There are still second-hand stores, knife-sharpening shops and whatnot. I’ve always really liked that. Also, the walkability and transit access.

Jay: It’s extremely bike-friendly here. When Jenny was considering moving to Sunnyside, I came for a visit and walked a radius around the house to get a feel for the neighborhood and see if it was a place I would like to live. I’d make it to 48th and Hawthorne and circle back. I was just blown away by the neighborhood, the character, the charm. It’s also a very cat-rich neighborhood. When you get closer to the park it’s more dog-dense, but Belmont-to-Hawthorne—that’s prime cat territory.

What’s one thing you would like to see change about Sunnyside?

Jenny: More affordable homes. Sunnyside has great density—you see a lot of one-story houses getting lifted and ADUs. So that’s really great. But I would love to see more inclusive housing opportunities in the neighborhood.

Jay: I would like to see additional support for our neighbors who are camping – connecting to housing, having access to hygiene, porta-potties, helping people keep their living areas clean.

How can we get these services in place for our houseless neighbors?

Jay: The City can provide porta-potties—there’s one right across the street from our house at the Belmont Inn. Metro has a trash pick-up program. It’s been going on for two years. There’s an entire suite of services we can tap into.

Jenny, as a member of the oversight committee for Measure 26-210, can you tell us when those funds may become available?

Jenny: The funds come via an income tax on high earners and large businesses. The amount will not be substantial next year because the tax is effective in 2021 and next year’s tax returns will be due in April 2022. We have to have accountability to the people we are meant to serve. We need to ask houseless people, “What would success look like to you? What are your goals?” The solutions have to be centered around the people.

So, do you guys have a cat?

Jenny: We’re working on it. We’re just waiting for the right one.