Jesse Harwin, an electrician, set up a handwashing station on his front lawn in a bid to just do something to help slow the spread of the new coronavirus. He went to Home Depot and built the simple structure from steel bars called uni-strut, an orange five-gallon bucket to which he added a tap, and a pump action bottle of diluted Dr. Bronner soap. It took him two hours.
A native Portlander, Harwin, 33, and his wife recently moved to a neighborhood near St Johns. He sees a lot of homeless people heading back and forth to Columbia Park and figured they — and anyone else — might appreciate a place to wash their hands.
Under his Reddit name jesster114, Harwin posted a photo of the result and a quick comment on Reddit/Portland. The response was swift. Redditors loved it.
Unistrut is the best, all-purpose metal bar for well, everything!
We use it all the time at work.
Yes! Love it City should sponsor these
Mayor Ted needs to see
An apprentice with the IBEW Local 48, Harwin had been working on the construction of a data center in Hillsboro, but the day before Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's stay at home order he asked his foreman if he could stop working.
"I just didn't feel like that was an essential service," he told the Portland Tribune by phone. "We don't need any more tweets necessarily."
He also wanted to be home for his wife and his parents, who are in their 70s and staying inside across town.
"But if my company wanted to call me up for doing maintenance at a hospital, for life safety systems, sure, I'm happy to turn a turn a wrench for that. I figured right now I can just do other things."
He is not hurting for money right now. "I've got a bit of a safety net. (The hell with) my financial situation. Everybody is scared."
He considered placing the hand washing station in the park, but thought his front lawn would be better: More legal, and easier to maintain.
"I'm wiping it down with bleach solution whenever possible."
Why did he build it?
"I wanted to build something with a familiar material. So I just picked up some stuff I needed from people and used other crap I'd accumulated over the years. We just downsized in terms of our house but I still have a lot of random buckets full of nuts and bolts and whatever."
He didn't use plans.
"I just completely winged it. What took the longest was for the silicone caulk to set. Honestly, I'm not that knowledgeable about plumbing. That's not my trade. But I thought don't let perfect be the enemy of OK."
He didn't look up OSHA guidance either. He guessed five feet was an acceptable height.
It was Day 2 of the mandatory stay home order for Oregonians and people were already getting tense. Most of the responses were encouraging. Reddit being a free speech-friendly public forum, the naysayers and the nit pickers soon chimed in.
needs a foot operated 'on - off' or else it's a waste of time. One would recontaminate turning off the water
can you install a foot peddle to dispense water? could be air pressure triggered, like one of those yellow accordion things that you would use to pump up a cheap air mattress, one pump the hose to the bucket pushes air into it, and makes a dollop of water come out your nozzle attached to the bucket.
His responses were the model of level headedness.
I was thinking about that after I finished this. I'm staying home and not buying any more materials for obvious reasons. But I will be wiping this down with a bleach solution. It's not meant to be perfect, just something I could do to help maybe.
"I don't want to step on anybody's toes," he told the Tribune. "I actually had a decent back and forth with one of the commenters on Reddit about that because of the potential viral vector on the handle for the water. So, I am trying to bleach it periodically. It's really hard to do a risk assessment and a cost benefit analysis," Harwin said with a laugh. "What was funny, a plumber came to my defense. Which is weird because normally electricians and plumbers are bitter enemies!"
The plumber chided a complainer, offering help that was not about pipes and water: it was meta commentary, something closer to social plumbing:
Or you could say " Wow, that's really great that your first response to getting laid off during a pandemic is to use your own skills, time, and materials to make something to try and help other people. I really appreciate your altruism, but I think I could improve on the design. Maybe I could help you?"
It's call a social thinking map. When you do "this" it makes people feel like "that". People think you are an ass when you respond only with criticism to a clearly generous act.
Harwin remains stoical. "Mental health being strained and people being afraid, I've been fairly close to just telling any naysayers to go f--- themselves. You know, I don't think that's a productive conversation right at the moment."
He is working for the greater good.
"Primarily with homeless populations, anything's better than nothing in my head and I might be wrong on that. But I intuitively it feels right."
The messy world of construction improved after the coronavirus scare started. Hand sanitizer and toilet paper were suddenly restocked on time. He's very hawkish about virus transmission. He carries a zip lock bag of Clorox wipes everywhere.
"I desperately hope we're overreacting. But it was like a hostage negotiation delivering groceries to my parents in southwest Portland, with wiping them down and leaving it on their driveway and picking up the money separately."
He ended with a plea for more chances to be useful.
"If you know of any opportunity that can utilize my skill set, I can help. I've got a car and a ton of free time. Even if they just need an able body. I'll work until I'm symptomatic."
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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