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Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods receives grant from city to fight livability issues associated with homeless camps

TRIBUNE PHOTO: LYNDSEY HEWITT - Garbage left at a cleared out homeless camp.The Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods scored a grant from the City of Portland for up to $90,000 to help clean up some of its neighborhoods.

It will fund a year-long pilot project called the Northeast/Eastside Industrial Clean Start PDX, which the Office of Neighborhood Involvement hopes to replicate throughout the city to address livability concerns. The contract partners with Central City Concern to add a full time employee who will clean up a 1 square-mile area in the Eliot and Lloyd neighborhoods, and some of the Central Eastside Industrial District.

Livability concerns have been associated with the growth of homeless camps in the city, where there's often visible mounds of trash, and biohazards like needles and human waste out in the open.

"We have seen a lot of increased drug use in the neighborhood and a lot of trash dumping. We just had a SOLVE event and we picked up over 1,000 pounds of trash with 60 volunteers," Kate Merrill, community engagement director for the Central Eastside Industrial District told Portland City Council on Wednesday, June 14. SOLVE is a nonprofit group that often organizes cleanups in the city.

The ordinance directly names Right 2 Dream Too, the city's long-standing homeless camp that just recently moved from its location in Old Town Chinatown to a new spot across the river, in the Lloyd District near the Moda Center. It notes that there is "increased concern of the potential visible livability impact to the surrounding area" because of the campsite's relocation.

Central City Concern is a vocational agency that provides jobs to formerly homeless people. It already works directly with Clean & Safe, an effort of the Portland Business Association to clean downtown on the west side of the river. But homeless camps have increasingly impacted other neighborhoods outside of the downtown core.

Jessica Rojas, community and environmental engagement manager with the neighborhood coalition, also told council members that the idea for the project came from the Eliot neighborhood, which initially had the idea to hire day laborers to clean up areas near the Moda Center.

"They (the neighborhood) have been working for years with the Moda Center to hammer out a Good Neighborhood Agreement and they were generous enough to give them a little start but not enough," said Rojas.

She said that they wanted to hire day laborers for below minimum wage "to pick up littler in a neighborhood they may never live in," which prompted the neighborhood coalition to find a more beneficial partnership.

Mayor Ted Wheeler said he appreciated the "innovation that went behind this, and the fairness angle that you're putting on this in terms of family wage jobs."

The Northeast Neighborhood Coalition is an independent nonprofit organization that oversees 11 neighborhoods. The Office of Neighborhood Involvement is allocating up to $50,000 while the Mayor's Office is dedicating $40,000.

The council actually declared the ordinance an emergency — meaning that it would be in full force after passage by the council.

"I just want to say how impressed I am with Northeast Neighborhood Coalition and all of our neighborhood coalitions. They're all doing really innovative, vital work in our community," Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the Office of Neighborhood Involvement, said.

This story originally reported that the Moda Center initally wanted to hire day laborers — initially it was the Eliot neighborhood that had the idea, according to Adam Lyons, executive director of the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods.

Eliot neighborhood has offered further clarification:

"By way of clarification, the Moda Center provided a small grant to Eliot as part of a Neighborhood Livability Partnership, to mitigate the impact of event parking, traffic and litter in the Eliot neighborhood. The neighborhood hoped to use this fund to hire day laborers through Voz, a local grassroots, worker-led occupational and civil rights organization, to assist neighborhood volunteers in collecting litter. The proposed minimum wage for this part-time work was set by Voz at $12/hour, (which has since increased to $15/hour)."

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