January 2019 Newsletter

We have a calling to empower every brother and sister in our community facing hardship and hopelessness. We walk together as an alliance of interfaith communities because we believe doing things together is better than doing them alone. We lead with our hearts and open our minds to understand the causes of poverty and the challenges of escaping it. We work hand-in-hand with families living in poverty by encouraging and supporting them as they move to stability. We boldly advocate for systemic change to help eliminate the root causes of poverty. We know the road is long but we believe as Martin Luther King, Jr. did when he said, “faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase."

- Tom Hering


Best Wishes from the Interfaith Alliance on Poverty for a “Happy New Year”!  It is our hope that, working together, we will  find more ways to break the chains of poverty and create a community where all dreams of prosperity are possible.  1st Thursday Meeting of the Interfaith Alliance, will be January 3,  at Madeleine Catholic Church, starting at 12:00 noon in the Fireside Room.   Focus will be on personal reflections on connecting with poverty; update from Agape Village; information on the National Urban Housing and Economic CDC.  Note:  Entrance to Fireside Room is along the path to the left of the Parish Hall.


SHARING OUR DREAMS

by Bonnie Gregg

 The dream of a “safe home” is common to all humanity from the streets of Portland to the war zones of the world.  It is as basic as our need for water to drink or air to breathe.  Our families must be safe and have opportunity to thrive.  Nevertheless, around the world thousands of families are leaving their homes fleeing violence and bloodshed.  

For most of us, it is hard to imagine what it would be like to be so desperate we are willing to leave all that we have, taking only what we can carry, holding our children‘s hands,  on foot - walking with our families,   friends and strangers, hundreds of miles to find a safe home.   Refugees from   Central America, Syria, Yemen and Northern Africa are on such journeys, reminding us of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. Families bedding down  in cars, camps, and on the streets of Portland are also on a journey, carrying only what they have on their backs, hoping for a safe home.

 We are a nation of “dreamers”, immigrants from every part of the globe, of every race and nationality who left their homelands chasing a dream on the North American continent, trying something new, a government for and by the people, established according to a Constitution that promised freedom and equal opportunity  to all.  It didn’t matter what your religion, your wealth or position, if you could read or write, or what language you spoke.  If you could find a way to get to America, you would be given a chance to make your mark.  You would be bound by neither king or tyrant, able to shape your own destiny.   When our nation was founded, Democracy was a crazy idea, the idea of a government for and by the people.  Nobody knew if it would work, but it turns out it did.  America became a “powerhouse” proving that diverse people, guided by faith, working together, combining their talents, ideas, and resources could accomplish wonders.   

Imagine what might happen if we followed this idea to solve problems of poverty in Portland. Dr. Erin Martin, Columbia District Superintendent of the Oregon/Idaho United Methodist Conference has declared that, “We can end the housing crisis in Portland!”, asserting that we have the resources; the only thing holding us back is “lack of imagination.”  

 In other words, we need to free our imaginations to dream “big”, and then match our actions to make our dreams come true, so that a safe home, good education, decent health care, fair pay, racial justice, freedom from violence, and equal opportunity not only become a reality in Portland, but across our nation, and as long as we’re dreaming big “around the world.”.  

While we’re at it, we may also want to consider the planet on which we live and the threats to our environment and fellow creatures.  No poverty could be greater than not having clean air to breathe and water to drink. We are appalled when we see islands of plastic float upon our seas killing birds and marine life, red tides pollute our coastlines, oil creep into our ground water, fires burn our towns and forests, hurricanes destroy our shores, as waters rise and polar ice caps meltGreedy millionaires may rejoice in the “bottom lines” created by eviscerating environmental regulations but I suspect Mother /Father Nature have no interest in profit margins.  Their “eye is on the sparrow” and, right now, the sparrow is in trouble.  So, here, too, we need to join hands and dream big, holding fast to our faith that “with God, all things are possible.”


DREAMING BIG IN THE “BIG APPLE”

The New York Times reports that “For decades, the Rev. A. R. Bernard, the pastor of the Christian Cultural Center had a vision for his under-utilized parcel of land near Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn. adjacent to his church,  to construct an urban village, as he calls it, of affordable housing, local shops and a new performing arts center.” The village was intended “to act as a bulwark against gentrification.”  Construction workers would be hired locally, much of the retail space would be reserved for local entrepreneurs and no tenants would be replaced.

The plans in East New York were to include “a church, a school, a 299-seat theater and a community center surrounded by a green quad similar to those on college campuses.  The shops, on the ground-floor of the residential buildings, would mostly face public avenues around the development’s perimeter.”  Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder of PAU, the company overseeing the design, stated that “All of the things that create social mobility, whether it’s affordable housing, cultural institutions, health care, education – this project is about all of that.”  Construction is not set to begin before 2020; however, the area has been re-zoned under Mayor Bill de Blazio’s strategy to promote affordable housing and spark economic develop in blighted neighborhoods and the number of permits to build new “affordable” housing apartments are already rising.


DREAMING “BIG” IN PDX

The City of Portland is now requesting proposals from faith communities to explore development opportunities for affordable housing constructed on their properties. Up to five proposals will be selected for a pilot program under this program. Organizations from the selected proposals will receive one-on-one assistance from architects and development consultants to determine: 

  • The types of housing development that can fit on the site.

  • What might be financially feasible.

  • City policies or regulations that would need to be addressed.

  • A roadmap for the faith organization to develop the housing.

Pilot program services could include: Concept development; Conceptual building designs; Conceptual site plan; Financial analysis (development pro forma); Financing options; Conceptual project timeline and steps in development process.

The pilot program services will be provided free of charge through a grant from Metro regional government and managed by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability. Selected faith organizations will be required to devote time to work with the design and development teams but do not have to fund the pre-development services.Please note this program is currently only considering proposals for permanent and long-term affordable housing. Proposals for pods and temporary shelters will not be considered.

Applications Due Jan. 18 - 

The City is seeking a variety of projects, so they encourage all faith communities that are taking steps toward development of an affordable housing project — whether in the very beginning stages or further along — to apply.

Applications are due by Friday, January 18, 2019.  To be considered for the design and development services, please fill out the online application formAll applications will be evaluated against several criteria, including location, land availability, project size, development type, land use zoning, diversity of faith communities, organizational capacity and readiness.  Pilot study selection will be made by mid-February. The pre-development studies must be undertaken in Spring 2019. Pilot study selection will be made by mid-February. The pre-development studies must be undertaken in Spring 2019.

Questions / More Information:

To learn more about your property, including zoning, permits, and assessments, go to portlandmaps.com. Have questions, need help or a hard copy of the application? Contact Project Manager Nan Stark at 503-823-3986 or nan.stark@portlandoregon.gov


PORTLAND MAYOR”S “Dream” TO MAKE PORTLAND  “THE CLEANEST MOST LIVABLE CITY IN THE COUNTRY” 

Although homelessness is a not a crime, the conditions in which the homeless are forced to live provide a haven for criminals to prey and an environment in which the addicted and mentally ill frequently exhibit their worst behaviors.  Portlanders seeing camps rise up in their neighborhoods, fear for their personal safety.    They don’t like finding drug paraphernalia in their yards   Their encounters with the homeless are not always positive. Although most of the homeless try to remain invisible or be good neighbors, some are belligerent, even threatening. As a result, although Portlanders may be willing to help the poor, they do not want to become their victims and they are demanding that the City do something about it.

In 2017,  arrests of homeless accounted for 52% of police arrests.  In 2018, the number of arrests increased.  Calls involving the homeless accounted for 8% of the 351,220 calls to which police were dispatched. Most of the crimes involved homeless people on property and drug or low-level crimes.  86% were for non-violent crimes.  More than 1,200 arrests were solely for missing court or violating probation or parole.

 Portland Tribune Reporter, Jim Redden, wrote on  September 6, 2018, that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has stated that just because  the   recent federal court ruling says the homeless cannot be prosecuted for camping if there is no available shelter, Portland will not be changing how it enforces its anti-camping policies.

The City Code broadly prohibits camping on city property and Wheeler says he has directed the police to act in limited circumstanceswhen a person is blocking a sidewalk, when a rigid structure has been erected on city property, and when a camp is creating health and safety issues.  He announced that he intends to take measures to correct these problems and make Portland “the cleanest and most livable city in the country!”   

Wheeler said his administration has spent tens of millions of dollars on homeless services with Multnomah County through the Joint Office on Homeless Services (JOHS).  Much of the funding has gone to nonprofit agencies that operate more than a dozen emergency shelters in the city and county. They include Transition Projects, Human Solutions, Portland Homeless Family Solutions, Do Good Multnomah, Community of Hope and Janus. All are at capacity and some have waiting lists.  This fall, Portland voters  also voted to support $653 million in bonds to provide affordable housing, which hopefully will help reduce rising costs of rent and increase availability of housing. https://pamplinmedia.com/pt/9-news/405553-303514-wheeler-court-ruling-wont-affect-homeless-camping-enforcement https://www.opb.org/news/article/oregon-election-affordable-housing-metro/


REPORT

by David Groff

 1st Thursday December 6 Meeting of the Interfaith Alliance on Poverty  

1st Thursday meeting of the Interfaith Alliance was held at Westminster Presbyterian Church on December 6, 2019 from 12:00 until 3:00 PM. Following opening prayer offered by  Pastor Beth Neal, Carol Turner, introduced the day’s speaker, Carol Chan, Coordinator for Living Cully.  Born in Hong Kong, Carol moved to Southern Oregon as a child.  Since age 15, Carol worked on trail crews with the US Forest Service and as a guide with the National Park Service.  The juxtaposition of urban and natural environments gave Carol an appreciation for the importance of sustainability.  She brings this passion for integrating natural elements into built environments to her new position as Living Cully Coordinator, where she is leading efforts to preserve land for affordable housing in the Cully Neighborhood.

  Carol gave an overview of the Cully Neighborhood and Living Cully.  Located in N.E. Portland, Cully is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Portland. Annexed to the city in the eighties its infrastructure lags that of other Portland neighborhoods. Poverty is 17% higher than in the city as a whole and 85% of the children qualify for free or reduced cost meals. It has attracted many immigrants.  But housing prices and rents have increased dramatically and caused some displacement and threatened much more.  Living Cully, a coalition of Habitat for Humanity, NAYA, Hacienda, and Verde was created in 2010.  It has developed programs to combat displacement.  

Carol introduced Carlina Arango, Mateo Fietes, and Antonio Rojas from Verde, a non-profit environmental social enterprise.  Carlina Arango, Landscape Program Manager for Verde, said that it promotes construction firms run by women and people of color.  It hires people from the neighborhood for its projects.  It offers urban restoration, bio-swell construction and other environmental services.  It helped create Cully Park.  It recruits its workers locally and provides training, a living wage and benefits.  Crew-members gain training and experience to move on to other jobs or create their own landscaping businesses.  The training program lasts about two years but is tailored to the needs of the individual participants.  The curriculum includes both technical and life skills.  Basic computer skills such as file management are also offered.  Landscape services, an energy program, environmental education, and advocacy are all part of Verde.  Carol emphasized that Verde seeks to be innovative in all that it does. 

A Landscaping Supervisor, Mateo Fietes,   explained how he became involved with Verde.  He had been in construction but moved to Verde in the wake of the Great Recession.  He has learned about the importance of using native plants in landscaping and habitat restoration.  He has remained at Verde because he has become passionate about the environment. Wages are decent, benefits are good, training is good, and scheduling is family friendly.  Mateo has worked for Verde for ten years and feels part of the community. Verde has provided him with opportunity.  

Antonio Rojas started with Verde as a volunteer and then worked into a paying job.  He spoke of working with Mateo on wetland restoration projects.  Prior to working for Verde, he had lived in Kansas.  When he came to Portland he worked for Taco Bell among other places.  He is happy to be working for Verde.

In answer to a question about urban renewal, Carol said that Verde works with Prosper Portland but seeks to develop financing tools that actually serve the community.  She said that local controlled advocacy is critical in making urban renewal a positive force.  Grassroots development and local decision-making are critical.  Local people need to be empowered to access resources needed to prevent displacement and enhance their communities.  

Carol emphasized that Living Cully is dedicated to working collaboratively to increase opportunities in the community.  She said that the community has a special feel to it.  She reported that Trimet has recently built a garage in Cully.  Community groups worked with Trimet to explore ways the new installation can maximize benefit to the Cully Neighborhood.  A community benefits agreement has been established through the leadership of Living Cully. A formal response from Trimet will be forthcoming.  There is also a post office being created in the neighborhood, but Living Cully has had less success establishing a working relationship with the Federal Government.  Living Cully is working to help undocumented workers to obtain tax payer identification numbers so that they can open bank accounts.  Claudia Roberts said that there is a bill in the legislature to permit such workers to obtain drivers licenses.   Pastor Beth Neel advised that 10% of Westminster fund raising efforts, in the amount of $14,000,  have been devoted to support for Living Cully’s land bank project.   

SUGAR SHACK “TRANSFORMED -- Three years ago, when the owner of the Sugar Shack was faced with federal prostitution and tax fraud charges.  a coalition of northeast neighbors banded together to buy the “strip club.”   The property, which is located in the heart of the Cully neighborhood, went on the market in 2014. Neighborhood groups including Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro Northwest and Verde, under the umbrella of the anti-displacement organization Living Cully, scraped together $2.3 million to buy the 2-acres site in 2015. The group explored using the existing building as a warehouse or as a kitchen for food production, but the costs proved too high. An appraisal commissioned by the city's urban renewal agency, Prosper Portland, found it to be in "fair to poor condition" with little practical use. The agency provided a $250,000 loan to the groups toward the purchase. Hacienda bought out its partners late last year and started planning for the site's redevelopment as "Las Adelitas," named for women who fought in the Mexican Revolution. The new development will include an indoor community space and a large outdoor plaza. 


UPCOMING JANUARY 2019  EVENTS 

Thursday, Jan. 10, 1:30- 3:00 pm, Training by Transitions Projects for Volunteering at Walnut Park Shelter at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church, Fellowship Hall, 1907 NE 45th; This training is required by a leader of any meal provider group.  While the Alliance is not sponsoring this activity, we are encouraging congregations and other groups to consider such participation- especially linking with other congregations as teams to deliver evening meals during the winter months.  Leslye Johnson, a RCPP member, has volunteered to be the point person for this. Please RSVP to her: Leslye Johnson lesgeoj@comcast.net  or call her: 971- 271-1970. Several of the Alliance congregations have offered their kitchens for meal preparation.

Saturday, Jan. 19, Legislative Forum, 10:00 AM- 12:00 noon,  Westminster Presbyterian Churc, 1624 NE Halsey. Forum will focus  some of the major poverty-related issues confronting Oregon Legislature in its upcoming session.  The Alliance is co-sponsoring with Oregon Coalition for Christian Voices and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. 


Tom Hering