Getting to Know Your Neighbors

Q&A with Amy Jones and Roger Robinson

Something unusual and delightful began popping up around the Sunnyside neighborhood as winter set in last year.

As COVID-19 continued its spread I began seeing a new contagion, one marked by joy and vibrant colors, spreading from tree to tree. On our evening walks, my partner and I began seeing it take hold on new streets. At first, we thought only trees were harbingers of it. And then we saw that the neighborhood Little Free Library was also susceptible.

Yarn bombing isn’t new but it is to our neighborhood. And it’s been a welcome surprise of color and joy during what’s been a monumentally challenging moment for Portland and our nation. This type of street art is referred to by many names: yarn or wool bombing, guerrilla knitting, urban knitting, and kniffiti. Whatever you chose to call it, it employs colourful displays of knitted or crocheted yarn or fibre rather than paint or chalk.

We became enamored with these mystery yarn artists. So I began asking around until one day I found out who they were.

Spoiler alert: The yarn bomber was not Banksy. It was—and is—Amy Jones and Roger Robinson, neighbors of ours from down the street.

When did you begin the yarn bombing project, how did it start, what keeps you going, and what do you love about it most?

Roger Robinson: We began in October 2020. Amy mentioned to me that she didn’t know what to do with the knit squares she makes to keep her hands busy, which reminded me of an example of knit bombing I had seen in Cincinnati, Ohio a few years ago. I asked her to give some squares to me and said I’d show her how we could use them.

So knit bombing came to Sunnyside! She continues to knit them and I sew them together and we bomb them together. I enjoy seeing the excitement on the children’s faces when they see the bombs, and especially when they hug them.

Amy Jones: I keep doing it because I like to knit and to see my work enjoyed by others.

How long have you two lived in Sunnyside?

Amy: 22 years

Roger: 3 years

What’s your background?

Amy: I was a Head Start teacher in Pittsburgh and Portland. I was born in Bronxville, NY. I love to read, and earlier in life I loved bicycling and hiking.

Roger: My longest career has been as an architect. I’ve also been a database designer and business partner. I enjoy playing piano and painting, and I was born in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.

What was the hardest part of the pandemic for you?

Amy: Not being able to work with the kids at Glencoe Elementary School and not being able to travel.

Roger: Separation from friends and family.

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

Roger: Eliminate the 100+ degree days.

Amy: I’m pretty pleased with Sunnyside.

What’s a fun fact about each of you?

Roger: I hitchhiked across the country when I was a teenager.

Amy: When my daughter Anne, also a Sunnysider, was 8 years old, she was bitten by Norman Rockwell’s dog.

Getting to Know Your Neighbors

Q&A with Jes Maran

Jes Maran, who was elected to the SNA Board last June, has been fearlessly leading the many projects of the Board’s Community Care Committee (otherwise known as SNACC) since December. She lives with her mom (Cathie), son (Octavo) and cats (Thor, Fenn, and Bit). Maran co-founded and runs the Formation Lab, a company that integrates social equity into the planning, design and management of public infrastructure with fellow Sunnyside resident, Nicki Pozos.

What brought you to the neighborhood and when?

We’ve been in this house for almost three years. Before that we lived in North Portland. My Mom, Dad, myself and my son lived in the house in North Portland until my dad passed in 2018. I got pregnant when I was in graduate school. That wasn’t really in my plans, so my parents said I could live with them. My folks and I raised Octavo together. My son did say at one point, “I would really like to not have any more parents; I feel like I have way more parents than everybody else.” I said, “Yeah, that’s fair.”

How would you say Sunnyside is different from other neighborhoods you’ve lived in?

It’s definitely a more well-off neighborhood than where I was, generally speaking. There’s a lot more diversity of family types and it’s louder and more active and it just feels a lot more energetic. Inner SE has its own strong personality that’s distinctive, but the individual neighborhoods don’t feel like they have a real strong barrier—Richmond, Sunnyside—they kind of blend in together. But Sunnyside always feels like it’s the heart, right? We have a chunk of Hawthorne; we have the best parts of Belmont.

Houselessness is nothing new in Portland, but what was the moment for you when you thought, yikes, this is really next level?

I long had a sense of compassion, but the turning moment for me was talking to one of the men who was camped over at Sunnyside Park and he talked about going to Sunnyside Environmental School. He and his sister went there and he talked about his teachers, and playing on the playground as a kid. This had been his home for his whole life and it still is his home. This just shifted for me from the sense of houseless folks as being this sort of transient intruder to being like, oh, you’ve been here a lot longer than I have, and you know this place way better than I do. I am the visitor.

What does the Community Care Committee do?

Since it came together in its current form last December, we’ve been supporting houseless neighbors primarily, but that’s expanded into general service to the neighborhood. It’s been out of this committee that Vincent [Dawans] developed his trash pick-up crew and Hannah [Wallace] developed the shower program. Then Ash [Hester] did a big clothing drive over the winter and Matt [Lembo] and I (and others) have worked on the sanctioned sites initiative. The initiative is about how Sunnyside can create shelter for houseless residents so that we can disrupt the sweeps process of just shifting people from place-to-place and start building places for people to live to be more stable, so they can get their feet under them in order to be healthier and/or to move to the next phase in their life.

Tell me about the first site, Beacon Village.

It’s a 10-unit tiny house village on the parking lot of Bridgeport United Church of Christ in Montavilla. The church approached Pat Schwiebert, the founder and director of Beacon PDX, to let her know they were interested in renting out space. We’re focused on the village itself and taking it through permits. We’ve ordered the houses, we’re getting the leveling platforms built, and coordinating the volunteers to create a safe space. I’m hoping that we’re able to get folks moved in in a couple of months.

There have been two community meetings about Beacon Village. What was your experience of the second one, held on June 8th? 

What I heard was a lot of fear about one’s personal space being infringed upon—fear of increases in crime and fear of visual blight. But I also heard a lot of folks really wanting to be supportive, but just having concerns about how it’s implemented. It was interesting to see, as in any neighborhood (and I think we have this very much in Sunnyside) that you have a younger cohort of folks for whom this is a no-brainer. Then there is an older group of folks — generationally but also people who have lived in the neighborhood longer — who just don’t want a village anywhere near them.

One of the things that’s interesting to me is that the church is private property. It’s not a public facility. I strongly support the notion that as a good neighbor, it’s important to share when you’re making big changes. We don’t necessarily tell our neighbors exactly what we’re doing in our own homes. So there’s just a little bit of feeling like there’s a right to know those things.

Emergency Preparedness and the SNA Board Meeting

What have Portland NETS been doing during the pandemic, both neighborhood and city-wide? Lots of useful community activities as it turns out. Neighborhood Emergency Team (aka NETs) volunteers:

* are being deployed as wayfinders and traffic control support at vaccination clinics around Portland and further,

* continue to connect in their micro neighborhoods with neighbors on emergency preparedness, and

* have worked at our local ECC (Emergency Coordination Center) in a variety of support roles.

Hundreds of NETs have volunteered thousands of hours in support of all of our communities here in Portland since the beginning of the pandemic.

Personally, I have, among other things:

* spent an afternoon as a wayfinder at a local vaccine clinic,

* zoomed with our wonderful local co-housing community – PDX Commons – talking about emergency preparedness issues,

* zoomed with the KERNS NET and the Pearl District NET to keep up-to-date with efforts in other neighborhoods,

* attended almost weekly Zoom meetings on Wednesday nights with NETs and NET applicants from all over the city,

* did eprep outreach via snail mail and email with new neighbors on my block, 

* participated in a City-wide Deployment Exercise via Zoom with more than two hundred NETs and other emergency responders from around the country. This was a ‘day two scenario’ mirroring what a response would look like the day after an earthquake in PDX, and

* continued with my own professional development, taking FEMA classes, sometimes more than once. (I am not great at multiple-choice questions, but I am persistent.)

I know there are many ways that Sunnysiders are supporting other Sunnysiders. It really does take a village and the willingness to step up for each other in a mutual aid capacity.

With gratitude to all of you who care very much about Sunnyside.

Emergency Preparedness and the SNA Board Meeting

Digital preparedness on my cell phone.

As I look at my iPhone 11, I see what kind of resources I have to keep me up-to-date for emergency response. To begin with, I have my children, my husband and a good friend in Portland listed as emergency contacts on my phone. It’s especially important to have at least one emergency contact be someone out-of-state and to have that person be aware of that role. It’s likely that text messaging will be the best way to communicate, at least for awhile, if the power is knocked out city-wide or state-wide.

In the event of an earthquake or an extended power outage, having one or more power banks is important, as phone batteries drain quickly in the cold. Turning off unnecessary functions like GPS, Bluetooth and WiFi will significantly extend battery life. The apps that I have installed on my iPhone are: American Red Cross Emergency, American Red Cross First Aid, 211info, FEMA (you can customize alerts), and NOAA Weather.

And, finally, when I hear of any weather event that might affect the power in our area, I immediately charge up my phone to 100%.