Getting to Know Your Neighbors

Q&A with Jesse Cornett

Jesse Cornett, the policy and advocacy director at Oregon Recovers, has lived in Portland for nearly 30 years. Much of that time he’s been involved in politics or policy-making. He was a veterans caseworker for Congressman Earl Blumenauer, the senior policy director for former Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and he worked on both of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaigns. A former bar owner, he is now in recovery himself and is outspoken about the need for more detox and recovery beds in Portland. We spoke to Cornett about his campaign for City Council (District 3), his thoughts on the roll-back of Measure 110, and what changes he’d make to Sunnyside, if he could.

How long have you lived in Sunnyside? 

I started dating my partner, Andrea, in early 2022, and I’ve largely been here since. I’ve lived in a lot of Portland neighborhoods.

How did you get involved in recovery?

I taught at Portland State between 2013 and 2019. One of the classes I taught was “The Legislative Process.” In 2019 I had Oregon Recover’s then-program director in my class. In the 2021 legislative session, they were talking about a beer tax, and I went to this former student, Andrew, and asked if I could help. They said yes. Basically I went to them one day and said, “Hey, you gotta hire me as your lobbyist.” They were like “OK!”

So I lobbied on the beer tax, unsuccessfully. At the end of session, Andrew left to go to law school and asked me to step in as the policy and advocacy director; I agreed and did that for the rest of 2021. I left in 2022, but I remained on the board. At the end of 2023 they asked me to step in when Tony Morse left so he could focus on his campaign for City Council (District 4).   

You’ve run for City Council before, right?

I ran in 2010. I did not fare well, but I do like mentioning it. It was a last minute campaign. It was uninspired. I have been pretty open with my struggles with addiction and mental health. I think the reality was that I was in the depth of that at the time and had no business running. But, I did care about the issues.   

I also ran for State Senate in 2006, and I lost by 162 votes. You don’t forget those things. And both the people who I ran against (Dan Saltzman and Rod Monroe) have endorsed me this time, which I think is neat. 

Why are you running for City Council? 

I’ve been in and around the political process for two decades. As a staffer to elected officials I’ve managed and worked on high-level campaigns. I never thought I’d run again after I ran and lost in 2010. But, I worked for Bernie Sanders’ campaigns, and in the second campaign I did some really neat things—neat, hard things. I went to Canada with a bus full of diabetes patients to buy insulin at ten cents on the dollar.  I went to a child detention center and stood at the gates with Bernie and saw where we as a country are literally caging kids. I know those aren’t local issues—but they resonated for me. And when I got back to Portland, I walked everywhere and saw tents and the suffering on our streets. Even worse is the open hostility to people living outside. And it’s hard to not hurt.

So in June of last year I started thinking about this. I looked at who we had in positions of leadership—at the federal level it was Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House and in Portland Ted Wheeler was mayor. I just realized, “If these are the people leading our country and city, well, [expletive] it! I believe I can do remarkably better.” I come at this from a much more compassionate place. I think I have something to say. For me, housing and homelessness, addiction, public safety, and climate change are the big issues. I think, especially with climate change, we’re really not doing a good job of preparing for the realities of the damage that’s already been done, especially in terms of climate refugees.

I know Measure 110 was passed state-wide, but what do you make of the legislature’s decision to roll it back?

I didn’t support Measure 110—the support structures for those caught with drugs were not built out. Nor did I support recriminalization, because of the equity issue that I saw.

What Measure 110 did, as you know, is decriminalized the possession of small amounts of drugs. Simultaneously, it diverted funding to create a system to deal with the aftermath. The idea was that, we’re not putting people in jail, so let’s create other programs—a behavioral health resource network. Well, we stopped handing out citations prior to these programs being built up. We should have built programs first and then changed the penalties. The legislature didn’t seem to learn anything from that, because what they did was they recriminalized possession. And they are going to build an entirely new system to deal with the aftermath.

What do you mean “an entirely new system?”

Deflection. This fancy new diversion system [meant to divert people from the criminal justice system by steering drug users toward treatment, recovery services, housing and other services]—but it doesn’t exist. [Each county will design its own system.] The legislature gave Multnomah County $25 million and it’s expected to be in place by September.

Thirteen counties didn’t opt in. You don’t have to so in 13 counties you are not going to be offered deflection. You are just going to get a criminal charge, full stop. In the 23 counties that signed on to this law, there isn’t a requirement for consistent enforcement. So, if me and a 20 year old black man were high and smoking fentanyl in front of your house, a police officer can show up and can send me to treatment and the black man to jail. And I think it’s simply unacceptable.

What do you love about Sunnyside? 

The restaurants! I love Bluto’s. The walkability! I go into Safeway at least six times a week. I’ve gotten to know the workers there. The coffee shops! I’ve been going to Common Grounds more and more. It lacks pretense, which I like.

What is one thing you would change about Sunnyside, if you could?

Make it more affordable. I’m aware of how lucky I am that Andrea bought her place in 1999. Keeping it affordable would be good. 

What do you think of the Inner Eastside for All campaign that Portland Neighbors Welcome is putting forth?

There’s a delicate balance. I talked about climate refugees. That’s gonna worsen in the next 20-30 years, and we have to keep up with the growing demand. Those are going to be immigrants in a lot of cases. I don’t think that we should just focus on building more cheap housing on 122nd. I think there’s a vibrancy to mixed neighborhoods. I don’t like the concept of tearing down perfectly good buildings to put up new bigger ones. But there’s also a balance of keeping up with demand. We have to simultaneously be mindful of the desire of the historical neighbors, the threats of climate change, but also manage the population.

I’m also in favor of a land value tax on empty lots. You’ve got this city block that’s just sitting there vacant? It’s out there vacant for 60 years. OK, cool, you can continue to do that, and the value of that lot would be, let’s say, $10 million. So we’re going to assess your tax at the $10 million level. And if you’d like to develop the lot to keep up with your taxes, great. If you just want to pay the taxes, OK. It would incentivize development. If I were to promote something like that—I would say there should be a 5-year period (or maybe even 10) where there’s no tax assessed. So year 6, you start getting assessed. And maybe we ramp it up over those 5 years. 

Cat or dog?   

I think that’s an unfair question! Andrea has a dog; I love that dog and I love dogs. But, my answer is nuanced. More nights than adults should admit I’m watching stupid cat videos.

Getting to Know Your Neighbors

Q&A with Andru Morgan

For the past few years Andru Morgan has been quietly and dedicatedly renovating the basement of the old Sunnyside Methodist Church/The Groves for two nonprofits he’s actively involved with. He and his wife Regina run the Naturally Beautiful Project, a nonprofit that helps children with afro-textured hair be proud of their hair (and helps them and their parents learn how to style it in a way that enhances its natural beauty). Morgan, who is an ordained minister and also a filmmaker, has also set up a community space for NW Documentary at the church that will offer classes on podcasting, film editing, and story-crafting. If you’re a Sunnyside-based filmmaker or creative, you can reach out to Morgan about using the studio as a co-working space. I toured the space with Morgan and talked to him about his past experiences working as a police chaplain and at a homeless shelter in Oklahoma, his work on the award-winning documentary Priced Out, and his first feature film about black comic David F. Walker.

How did you end up here at The Groves?

Andru: When I moved from Oklahoma in 2017, there were several news articles written about me moving here. The pastor of the church then, Sunia, read one of the articles and invited me to hang out. I ended up visiting The Groves and preached a few sermons. We didn’t plan it, but we all got involved with the United Methodist Church at the same time.

At the time, I was at Parkrose United Methodist, where I ran a food pantry and had started my storytelling project. The pandemic interrupted all of that. Ultimately my mother died of Covid, which was a huge blow. So I stepped away from pastoring, allowing me to focus on the Naturally Beautiful Project and the Storytelling Project, leading me to come to Sunnyside to work with The Groves. This place has the potential to bring programming that addresses this community’s social equity.

Why did you move from Oklahoma to Portland?

Andru: I was praying one day and God just said, “It’s time to move.” A few years before, I was on a business trip here and I had brought my wife with me. She was like, “I like it here.” Ironically we were at the Rose Festival and we were like, “It’s so diverse here!” [Laughs.] 

What did you do in Tulsa?

Andru: I was a police chaplain. I’d show up to death scenes and contact the family and tell them that their family member has passed on. And I’d sit with them. I also ran an overnight program at a homeless shelter and we also had a drug rehabilitation program. The shelter, called John 3:16, was interdenominational—under the cloak of an “all denominations are welcome” but it was pretty much Southern Baptist. It was an overnight shelter for 200 men—that was the portion I was in charge of. I also worked in the drug rehab program. I was a physical trainer and used to have a marathon running group for the homeless. I was in charge of health and physical wellness, and I would teach life skills.

Tell me about your work on Priced Out. I had no idea you worked on that!

Andru: I was the post-production producer of Priced Out. I met the director, Cornelius Swart, and I also ran events, and hosted screenings. I created a 30-episode podcast for it, which allowed us to screen in Romania and other places around the world. You can now see Priced Out on our YouTube page where there are a few episodes of the podcast.

How much time do you spend on NW Documentary vs. the Naturally Beautiful Project?

Andru: I’m the executive director of the Naturally Beautiful Project, so right now it’s probably  80% on that and the rest on Northwest Documentary.

How many days a week will NW Documentary offer classes in this space?

Andru: It’s usually a few days of the week for the classes, typically for adults. With the Storytelling Project, my nonprofit, we will do a spring break camp for youth. We will also offer summer classes, from animation to editing and other areas of storytelling.

The game plan is to go into each community. Right now we’re in Sunnyside and our offering to Sunnyside is to create this space and maybe in a few years we’ll be able to walk away from this space and give it to Sunnyside. If you were working on your film but you didn’t want to work from home, you could come here, plug into our setup—which includes a high-quality monitor—and put your headphones on, because the basketball [upstairs in the gym] is loud!

How much does it cost to use this space as a co-working space?

Andru: Members of NW Documentary are always invited to come in. If you want to sign up to be a member, just sign up and you are in. Most people donate or they pay for classes. We get a lot of grants, and we try to keep the cost low. We also sponsor documentary film projects and even have an artist-in-residence program that would provide you with additional work space.

Who can take the classes and how much are they?

Andru: The classes are for anyone in the community who signs up on the website. Sam Gaty, who is the executive director, will put the new offerings up soon. Some classes are free, and they’re never at a cost that’s too high. We have to pay instructors, so we need students to pay something for a course, but we’re not looking to make a profit. 

Does your documentary have to focus on issues that are important to BIPOC communities?

Andru: It doesn’t have to be. But, we live in Portland and we know it’s important to prioritize them. The fortunate thing about me being in the BIPOC space is that I know how to prioritize us and not let it just be symbolism.

Tell me about NW Documentary and what you do for it?

Andru: NW Documentary has been around for 20 years. Sam Gaty is a visionary and is always on board to help members achieve their own vision. NW Documentary has a long history of collaborating with other community organizations to provide media support. As such it is a crucial sponsor of my Storytelling Project, leading them to set up this location in Sunnyside. Post-pandemic, NW Documentary could have set up in any community, but they see the potential that the Sunnyside community has and chose to partner with the Storytelling Project, and here we are. 

Priced Out was made through NW Documentary, and I worked there every day on Priced Out. Then, I started working on my film projects and volunteering for other people’s film projects. Most recently, I started my own film project, UnCaged (the working title), about the life of David F. Walker, the Portland comic book writer.

How is that coming along?

Andru: [Big sigh.] It’s my first full-length feature. Cornelius Swart is my executive producer; the story has taken several turns creatively. We stopped shooting last year, and I’ve been in post-production. I’m going to put up a fundraising trailer in early 2024 as a Kickstarter, just to be able to pay an editor and colorist. We’re hoping that by this time next year, we’ll have a complete project that’s been screened a few times in this community.

What do you like about Sunnyside?

Andru: I think there’s the space and opportunity—the potential. The potential hasn’t become fully potent—but it’s there. You can’t pass up on an opportunity to be a part of something, the rebuilding of something. You know gentrification is going to affect the community in different ways. So to be able to be there and to allow it to be gentrification with justice. We’re not going to stop that beast of capitalism and gentrification but, when you can apply some justice to creating safe spaces for people of color, and safe spaces for people who society calls the “least of these”—that’s our primary mission. Sunnyside as a whole community, in my experience, it seems that potential is there right now.

What do you think needs improvement in Sunnyside?

Andru: I would like to see more community resources spread a little bit further. I love the Shower Project, but I would love another shower group in the neighborhood, to give different options. Even with the lunch [that Beacon PDX offers at the Quaker Meeting House.] Some more services. We can’t ignore the fact that each community in Portland has its own unique homeless population. I would love to be able to say Sunnyside does it with justice, that they do it a little better.

If you’re interested in working at NW Documentary’s space, contact Andru or Sam at [email protected]. In 2024, Andru and Regina’s daughter, Neairra, will be taking over the Vines & Grinds coffee shop in church basement and plans to have it open more than the current three days a week. If you’re interested in renting out the event space for book clubs, poetry readings or other events, contact her at [email protected]

Additional Info:

The Naturally Beautiful Project is a 501c3 that provides natural haircare education for families and individuals looking to enter the natural hair industry. For more information on the services of the project, please check out

Belmont Library Renovation Update

Did you know that the Multnomah County library system is the fourth busiest in the nation? Or that the Belmont Library has more items on hold than any other branch in the county (3,000 at any one time)? I didn’t. We learned this and more at our November General meeting. Katie O’Dell, Multnomah County Library’s Capital Bond Deputy Director, gave us the big picture on the 2020 bond, which will both modernize the existing library system and help renovate libraries like our beloved Belmont branch. The updates include a centralized sorting center, a technology system called Automated Materials Handling (AMH), and access to more than 1.6 million items. The renovation of the Belmont Branch–which will happen in fall of 2024–will more than double the current library’s size. (There will be a second floor, but the building’s footprint will also get slightly bigger.) The expansion will allow for an increase in the number of materials—in both English and Spanish—and will add additional spaces for people including a teen lounge, an upstairs reading room, more flexible program space and possibly an outdoor terrace. Jeanie Lai, one of the architects from Bora Architects, shared the current sketches (the design is still being hammered out) and said that they are taking cues from the neighborhood, keeping the library at a residential scale. There will be a new entrance (still on the Cesar Chavez Boulevard side of the street, but further north), more bike parking (closer to the building), and a more generous 15-foot right-of-way—with a wider sidewalk and trees planted close to the curb. The community was asked to fill out a survey (812 people responded), and there have been three interactive workshops for the community so far. Check for updates including future public meeting dates.

SNACC Update

The SNACC (Sunnyside Neighborhood Community Care) Committee had a productive meeting on October 5th. We discussed the need for different types of volunteer activities at the Shower Project, including organizing supplies and taking inventory. We also talked about how volunteers need to be more mindful of how our conversations impact our guests – putting them front-and-center rather than focusing on ourselves or our (comparatively privileged) lives. We also discussed the need for further trainings around Trauma Informed Care (TIC), CPR and first aid training, and a Narcan training. 

We will be holding a Narcan training for all Shower Project volunteers and guests on November 12th with a harm reduction coordinator from Instituto Latino Recovery Center and our very own Josette Hodge. We also discussed the Clothing Drive and brainstormed partner agencies we could invite to be there. (See below for more info on the winter clothing drive.) The next SNACC meeting will be on December 7th at 6:30 p.m. 

Winter Clothing Drive

For the 4th year in a row, the SNACC committee is organizing a Winter Clothing Drive for our houseless neighbors. The drive will be on Saturday, December 9th in the basement of the Sunnyside Methodist Church/The Groves on 35th and Yamhill. A crew of volunteers will be on hand to collect donations of winter clothing and gear from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. The main event will be held from 2 – 6 p.m. that same day.

Here are some of the things we especially need (for all genders): 

• Pants, jeans, and sweatpants
• Sweaters and sweatshirts
• T-shirts – short and long-sleeved
• Long underwear
• New underwear (men’s and women’s)
• New or lightly worn socks (wool preferred)
• Raincoats/winter coats
• Boots, tennis shoes, hiking shoes
• Tarps, tents, sleeping bags
• Warm hats, gloves, scarves, and belts

Please do not donate children’s clothing or dressy/formal clothing. 

We will be promoting the event to our shower guests, partner agencies, and local businesses (and on our Instagram at @sunnysideshowerproject). If you would like to help publicize the event or if your workplace wants to donate gear, clothing, or gift cards, please reach out to Diana Deumling at [email protected].