Getting to Know Your Neighbors

Q&A with Nathan Howard and Leslie Wright

Howard, who was born and raised in Southeast Portland, is president of the cannabis farm East Fork Cultivars, which he founded in 2015 with his brother Aaron. They started the company to grow high-CBD strains of cannabis for their elder brother, Wesley, who regularly used the plant to alleviate symptoms of a rare neurological condition. Leslie, who grew up in San Diego, is a mental health nurse who is finishing her doctorate in psychiatric mental health at Oregon Health and Sciences University. They met when Leslie was working at the Bus Project (now called Next Up) and Nathan was a legislative aide for State Senator Mark Hass. “The Bus Project was putting on an end-of-the-legislative-session celebration and Nate came to the event. I invited him to sit at my table and the rest is history!” recalls Leslie.

Lately, the couple has been working with a group called the Plant Medicine Healing Alliance to persuade the City Council to decriminalize all psychedelics and protect home cultivation and ceremonial religious use of the plants. They just got a labradoodle puppy who they named Blue. When I spoke to the couple in late May, Howard was just getting ready to open Hemp Bar, East Fork’s all-ages CBD café, on 63rd and Foster.

How long have you guys lived in Sunnyside?

Nathan: Five years, in two different locations.

Leslie: We purchased this house two years ago. We fell into the opportunity in a very lucky white privilege way. Nate’s dad is a real estate agent. His first boss in Portland owns a ton of houses and he’s slowly been selling them off. So he was selling this house but never listed it. We did a seller-finance contract with him so we don’t have a traditional mortgage with a bank, which is great because I was about to start school and I probably wouldn’t have qualified because I wasn’t really working.

What do you love about Sunnyside? 

Leslie: We really love Southeast because you can walk everywhere and a lot of our friends live here. And our street has got so many kids on it!

Nathan: I love that aspect. We probably have 16 kids within a block or so, and they’re frequently in our front yard, climbing our apple tree. We just got a dump truck of 10 yards of gravel delivered, and they’re all playing in the gravel and seeing if they can come over and hang out with our puppy Blue. We just love it.

I also love the open-mindedness of the neighborhood. There’s still some fear-based NIMBY stuff going on, but there’s such open-mindedness and I find that so energizing. And I’m starting to see way more diversity—including racial diversity. I’m really hoping that we’re trending towards more diversity in every sense of the word and less homogenous everything. I hope that continues and if that continues that I think I’ll start to love Sunnyside even more.

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

Nathan: I guess I’ll answer that by saying what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid that Portland—Sunnyside included—is vastly underestimating the amount of in- migration that we’re going to continue to have over the coming decades. We’re vastly underestimating the amount of climate refugees the Pacific Northwest is going to be taking on, specifically the Portland Metro area. And so what I’m really fearful of is that liberal, progressive, open-minded, Sanctuary City Portland—seemingly overnight—could turn into a pretty xenophobic place if we don’t properly plan for a lot more people. So I’d like to see us begin to seriously consider changing that. And that means investing a bunch more infrastructure and housing and probably changing even more zoning laws in certain areas.

Leslie: I don’t know that I have much more to add. Making it more personal: I have friends who have chosen to live in North and Northeast because it’s more racially diverse. I’ve had friends of color who have told me about experiences where they would walk down a street in Sunnyside and people would stare at them from their porch, or smile in a way that was too familiar. Both send the message that they don’t belong and they feel unwelcome.

Why did you name your puppy Blue? 

Leslie: I had a dog named Red growing up, so I thought it’d be on-theme. But then also we were talking to the woman who we bought him from, and she told us that he’s like this kind of old soul, kind of a dopey super chill dog, we thought like “Blue,” blues. That’s cool. That’ll work.

Getting to Know Your Neighbors

Q&A with Timoney Korbar and her mom Barbara Korbar

Timoney Korbar, who runs Amazon Prime’s X-Ray international division, moved to Portland in September from Santa Monica, California. She found a house in Sunnyside that also had space for her mom, Barbara, who she moved here from upstate New York a month later. After scoring a vaccine appointment for her mom, she launched Portland Vaccine Helpers, a volunteer-led effort to get Oregon seniors their vaccine appointments. I talked to her about how she fell into vaccine work, her job as a television producer, and why she loves Sunnyside.  

When did you settle in Sunnyside?  

I just moved in September from L.A. I rescued my mom from upstate New York during the pandemic. We pandemic-moved! She was in a senior apartment complex, and they were not taking COVID seriously. I also had trouble getting her groceries. Luckily, Nextdoor helped me in that time. I joined Nextdoor for Ellenville, NY. A week later, a retired corrections officer offered help. She got her groceries until I moved her to Portland. 

 Tell me how Portland Vaccine Helpers started?  

Once I secured an appointment for my Mom to get vaccinated, I saw how hard and complicated it was. I posted on Nextdoor, “I know how it works if anybody needs help.” The response was overwhelming.

 Hundreds of people reached out to me via Nextdoor. I created the back-end to collect information. A week later, I brought in five volunteers to help call people, book appointments and do more back-end work. Luckily, we were able to get appointments for all the seniors.  We ended up booking close to 300 people. I myself booked 186 people.

It’s sort of like getting impossible concert tickets! (I used to work in the music industry, and I’m a huge Radiohead fan—I traveled the world to see them touring.) We’re winding down our efforts now. We decided that our main focus was to help seniors and the need from seniors is waning.

 And you also have a full time job? 

I do. I’m a television producer. I am in charge of X-Ray international premium content for Amazon Studios. I work on a lot of bonus content—the making of, interviews with directors, and so on. 

Up until recently my work has been mainly focused in India. I would say my favorite show that I’ve produced content for is called Made in Heaven. It’s about these two people who run a wedding planning business. You get exposed to all the different religions and all the different specifics that go into different types of Indian weddings. It has one of the first gay characters in Indian television. They wrote it when it was still illegal to be gay in India! 

I also have a Schitt’s Creek inspired AirBnB downstairs called The RoseBud and Barkfest. 

 What do you love about Sunnyside?  

I looked all over Portland and I really wanted something that was walkable. Eventually, post-pandemic, I want to be able to do fun things like sitting outside and having a beer somewhere, grabbing a bite to eat. I like having the Bagdad Theater down the street. 

 What attracted me to Portland was that it has a big city feel but you also feel like you’re in a neighborhood. Also, my best friend here is in Woodstock and close family friends are in Northeast. I’m perfectly in the middle of those two. I was looking on the other side of the river, and my friend Erika, in Woodstock, was like, “No! We’ll never see each other.” I also found a house that has an apartment for my mom downstairs. And a bonus AirBnB! So it was the perfect storm. 

 So I take it you own? Yes. I bought my first house. It’s an amazing feeling but there’s always so much to do.

 What is one thing you’d like to see change about Sunnyside? 

I can’t really think of anything I’d want to change outside of the potholes. Because I haven’t been here very long, I haven’t really been able to experience as much of Sunnyside as I would like to. It is hard to see the homeless struggling so much in our area. 

Getting to Know Your Neighbors

Q&A with Mark Usher

When did you settle in Sunnyside?
Last April.

Why did you choose Sunnyside over another part of the city?
I seen the gathered people—the homeless area—and so I blended in. Tried to! I first went to Laurelhurst and then we got swept. We were forced to move down here.

What led you to become homeless? (If you don’t mind talking about it.)
I had transferred from the Newberg Fred Meyer store to the Clackamas store because my buddy Adrian was running the meat market there. But before I started, he went to selling insurance, because he could make more money. I had a heck of a time getting on back there in any departments.

So because you didn’t have a job you weren’t able to pay your rent.
Right, exactly.

You went up to Sandy yesterday to visit your daughter. How did that go?
I knocked a couple trees down for the doctor I work for, at his house on Mount Hood. (He also has a place on Burnside.) He was afraid they were gonna drop on his house. While I was up on the mountain, I seen my daughter. Then, I dropped by to ask him, I was like, “When you want me to do them?” and he said, “Right now’s a good time!” I said, “Oh no!” I said to him, “I’m not gonna buck ‘em and limb ‘em, I’m just gonna drop them.” He can go out there anytime with a chainsaw and do the rest. I had to catch my bus back to Portland.

I don’t know all this lingo. Can you explain?
I used to work for Brandon Logging in Sandy—I ran the landing. That’s when log trucks park and they load the logs on the truck. You “limb it,” which means you cut the limbs off. Then you “buck it”—cut it into sections.

You do other work for this doctor, right? You’ve mentioned he also has a place on Burnside.
He has properties all over the place and I go in and put new fixtures in: sinks, toilets and stuff like that. He rents them out. Sometimes we’ll remodel the whole thing—we’ll do everything from the hardwood floors to painting. He was my neighbor up on the mountain for about ten years. He helps me out a lot. I can go charge my phone at his place. I house sit for him when he takes off for Texas or Indiana to visit his kids.

What do you like most about Sunnyside?
It’s quiet down here. Probably having the church here helps keep it quiet. And it seems like the people are nicer here! (Laughs.)

What’s one thing you would change about Sunnyside, if you could?
They got an outhouse right there. That’s nice of them. But they don’t put enough of them. For 15 people, that’s good. But for 30 people—one outhouse gets trashed. That would be an improvement. And keep up the good work on the Neighborhood Association!

Can you explain to housed neighbors what it’s like to be houseless?
The uncertainty on where do you go? Anywhere you go, they don’t want you there, which I can see. If you have a nice home at Laurelhurst, you don’t want to be up in the morning looking at your window to see that. But we don’t camp across from their houses now. But still, it’s a burden. People come down there and go, “Look at that. It’s messy!” I don’t know what could make people change their minds on having people camping across from them.

How long have you been on the list waiting for affordable housing?
Over a year. I don’t mind them giving whatever comes available to women and children first. We just need a place to go where we know our stuff will be there when we’re back from work, you know?

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.

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