Cleaning up Alder Street

Dear Liza,

We walked home via Alder Street, coming from dinner at Bluto’s the other evening. A few weeks ago, we would not have done that.

For the past two years there has been a large encampment of houseless folks there. On May 13th the City cleared the encampment due to reports of stolen bicycles and a “chop shop” in the homeless camp.

This was not a camp of people or families trying to find housing. There was drug dealing, occasional violence, stolen property, drug paraphernalia and trash all over the block. Fires they set went out of control with smoke and ashes coming in nearby windows and the fire department coming to put out burning tents.  Residents’ flower beds were used as toilets during the night. The coming and going of cars, noisy motorcycles, loud voices and fighting throughout the night also kept the neighborhood awake. 

When the encampment was cleared by the city, several neighbors took it upon themselves to clean up the remaining trash, broken glass and drug paraphernalia and restore the ruined parking strips by turning the soil and transplanting plants that they grew in their own gardens. They strung ribbons so that dogs and people would know not to step on the newly planted areas.

We met Kundalini Bennett, the owner of Freedom Massage, located just across the street from the former encampment, who had spearheaded the replanting. In speaking with her, we learned that although many neighbors are relieved to have peace restored to their long-time home, there is a group of activists who are NOT the houseless folks vandalizing the neighborhood’s efforts.

These activists are mistaking the residents for rich people unsympathetic to the plight of the houseless. This could not be farther from the truth. In fact, one nearby property owner volunteered for many years at homeless shelters. Residents in the neighborhood talked with those in the recent encampment and gave them stuff to help from time to time. 

These neighbors are trying to get their lives back in their own rented places and want to be able to sleep through the night while making the street look nicer with some plantings.  It’s a lot of work and some of them get by with public assistance. These are not rich people.

It is disheartening to Kundalini and her neighbors to have activists vandalizing their beautification efforts without understanding who they are or their motivation. These activists are not homeless themselves but are young families and individuals coming from as far as St. Johns in nice cars, stealing plants and vandalizing garden beds while pretending  to defend houseless people. This feels so unfair to those who are volunteering their time and energy – and their homegrown plants!

Since I like living in my neighborhood and not having to avoid streets to feel safe, I hope that Kundalini and her neighbors will have success in restoring cleanliness and beauty to the neighborhood. I will help them when I can.


Grandma Judy

Remembering Leroy

Dear Liza,

I love that our city has a Street Art Association that helps local artists create murals on the walls of our stores. The SSA has helped create dozens of murals filled with history and art.

And today I got to see a beautiful new example. On the west wall of our little Belmont Market, some folks were painting a memorial to Leroy Sly Scott, a homeless man who lived in our neighborhood for almost thirty years. In my conversations with him, we talked about life, God, and goodness.

Leroy and his bust sculpted by the late Jim Gion

This past year, Leroy became very sick and was taken in by some kind neighbors. In his last weeks he rested peacefully, in a warm bed with a roof over his head. He passed away knowing that he was not alone.

Leroy’s portrait was designed and painted by Kyra Watkins and the lettering was designed by Alicia Schultz and painted by some of Leroy’s friends. The lettering spells out Leroy’s favorite quote from a Digital Underground song, and says, “All around the world, same song.”

As I stood chatting with the painters, a traffic officer stopped by to tell them they had to move their vans, which were parked in a loading zone. Everyone was pleasant, but the officer was very clear. “I have to see you move them.”

Later, as the sun was going down, the work was almost done.

I will walk over today and see how it turned out, and think about Leroy, and God, and goodness.


Grandma Judy

Christmas Eve Conversations

Dear Liza,

Yesterday was Christmas Eve. Auntie Bridgett was working at the art gallery and I was getting the house cleaned up for Christmas Day. At about 3:00, I walked to “Straight out of New York” to pick up our traditional Christmas Eve pizza. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much of a selection.

I texted Auntie Bridgett about the situation. Maybe “Pizzacato”, the pizza place closer to the gallery, could do better. Their website said they were open Christmas Eve until 4:00. I let Grandpa Nelson what I was doing and walked as quickly as I could up to Burnside Street to check it out.

I saw Johnny, a very pleasant homeless fellow, outside Whole Foods with his cart and “Merry Christmas” sign. I said I was off to buy pizza, and could I buy him a slice or two?

“Honey, they’re closed,” he said. “They haven’t been open all day. I was gonna get my dinner there, too.” He seemed worried. “Where’re you gonna get your dinner?”

“Oh, we’ll figure something out, I guess,” I assured him. “You?”

“I’ll head to the Pearl. There’s a nice Chinese place there.” He smiled and we wished each other Merry Christmas, and I headed to the gallery to talk with Auntie Bridgett.

“You know,” she said, “We have a lot of food at the house. There’s sausage and cheese and crackers, fruit and veggies and fruitcake. We can make a buffet!”She was right, and that was what we decided to do.

Meanwhile, it was an hour before the gallery closed. I looked at the art, she tidied and organized. At about quarter to five, she noticed a box of cookies someone had given to the gallery to share, but no one had eaten any. “They’re going to go stale,” she said. “We ought to toss them out.”

But with so many people without even a proper supper, that felt wrong. I took the box and went looking to offer Johnny cookies to have after his Chinese dinner, but I couldn’t find him. I figured he had already caught the bus to the Pearl.

Unwilling to leave without giving the cookies to someone, I walked to the Laurelhurst Theater where a lady named Jennifer makes her camp. She has all sorts of health problems but refuses to leave the outdoor life. I offered her the cookies and we chatted. She showed me her new down sleeping bag, donated by a generous person. She was having a merry Christmas, she said.

Heading back to the gallery, I spotted Johnny. I told him about the cookies and Jennifer. He smiled sadly, knowing her story better than I did. Then his face lit up. “Hey, I was thinking of you,” he said, and held up a bag from Whole Foods. “I went in to the market to get a cup of coffee and the folks there gave me this for Christmas.” I opened the bag. It was full of unopened packages of sausage, cheese, and bread. “I thought about you not having your pizza, and I’ve got my dinner already. Would you like this?”

I was stunned at his kindness. This fellow who sleeps in the cold by his shopping cart had come into extra food and worried that I wouldn’t have a dinner. He really was the good soul I thought he was.

I smiled. “No, thanks, we got it figured out. Maybe you could share with Jennifer?”

He shook his head. “She don’t eat cheese or meat,” he said. “I’ve offered her lots, but she just eats sweets, her cigarettes, and her wine.” We were both sad, thinking of Jennifer, sick and stubborn. He reached behind him and put the bag of food on a small sidewalk table, part of the Covid conscious outside dining area of a darkened restaurant. “I’m going to leave this here. The fellas will come by later. They’ll find it.” I figured he meant other homeless folks, and asked, “How will they find it?”

“They’re pretty thorough,” he grinned. “Well, thanks again for the offer,” I said. “Have a Merry Christmas.”

“You too,” he said.

And we parted company, with me wondering at the sweet strangeness of it. Each of us was trying to take care of someone else, and were richer because of it.

It felt very Good King Wenceslas. And that’s not a bad feeling.


Grandma Judy