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.

Continue reading “Getting to Know Your Neighbors: Jay Parasco and Jenny Lee”

Update on Sunnyside Encampment

We as a neighborhood association have been wrestling with the houseless crisis in our neighborhood more urgently since the camp at Sunnyside Environmental School has gone up over the past few weeks. We realize and fully understand that the location of this camp is not ideal for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that this is an elementary school with one of the few playgrounds in our neighborhood.  While we, the City and other agencies look for another place for these campers to live, we are working hard to make sure that these folks have food, access to bathrooms, trash pickup, and other services.

In December 2020, the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association endorsed the “Community First” Strategy to help guide us in our response to homelessness. This strategy guides us in our current response to the camp at Sunnyside Environmental School: 

  • We believe that unsupported camps are neither compassionate nor best practice. We are actively looking for potential alternative spaces/land for these houseless campers where they could set up a more permanent camp like Dignity Village or Agape Village.  
  • We believe that as a host community, we have a vital role to play, while it is also reasonable for us to have expectations as well. We realize that acceptable camp spaces do not include parks and school grounds.
  • As we look for alternative camping locations, we believe compassion comes first. Our Community Safety & Livability Committee has been engaging in rigorous on-the-ground efforts aimed at mitigating the impact of unsupported camping conditions for both unhoused and housed neighbors alike. We’re working very closely with government agencies (the City’s Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program, Metro, and Portland Police Bureau specifically) to gain access to additional resources and ensure leaders at these levels are informed. 

Here’s a more detailed update of what’s happened since our Dec. 28 Community Safety & Livability Committee meeting. 

First, several of our committee members made contact with Katie Lindsay from the Homelessness and Urban Camping Impact Reduction Program (HUCIRP). Lindsay walked around the encampment on Tuesday Dec. 29 and was told about the neighborhood’s concerns about drug use, potential crime, trash, and loud noises after hours. We also told her of the camp’s need for a port-a-potty and asked that it be placed away from the playground (and away from neighbors’ houses) on the North side of Yamhill. Later on Tuesday, Lindsay let us know that the area along 34th street would be “posted”—i.e. that signs would go up alerting folks that it would be cleared and cleaned on Monday, January 4.

Those signs went up on Wednesday Dec. 30. Members of Rapid Response (the clean-up service the City employs) and volunteers from our committee are working to help those people camped along 34th relocate elsewhere in the city. (Emergency shelters are also a possibility but as those are for just one night only, don’t allow any personal belongings, and don’t have any private rooms, they are usually a non-starter for most campers.)

A port-a-potty was set up on the corner of 34th and Yamhill on Wednesday as well.

While neighborhood volunteers started doing cleanups and trash pickups as early as last week, Metro began doing daily trash collection at the park as of Wednesday Dec. 30. Volunteers have been handing out Metro trash bags to campers, who know to leave the full bags at the corner of 35th and Yamhill for pick-up.

The needle box on 35th (near Yamhill) is back in service. We are working on getting the needle box on 34th (across from Taylor) back in service as well. Volunteers are monitoring and emptying those boxes at the main needle drop over at the Belmont Library.

If you have any interest in volunteering to help with trash pick-up, outreach, or an upcoming clothing drive please contact Jes Maran at csl at sunnysideportland.org .