Find out where this year’s Portland Habitat for Humanity “Building Blitz” took place – and why families appreciate the new homes …

Maria Eby of Portland Habitat for Humanity, new homeowner Juana Nene, and Habitat for Humanity board member Susie Vischer here pause for a moment, as the 2008 Building Blitz is in full swing.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
What was only a vacant lot a few weeks ago is now a small development of single-family houses occupied by their new owners – not renters.

“Welcome to our 2008 Home Building Blitz,” we were greeted Maria Eby, Portland Habitat for Humanity Marketing and Special Events Manager. We were on the building site at SE Ogden Street, just west of SE 82nd Avenue of Roses.

This “blitz”, Eby said, was the local manifestation of an international event created by Habitat for Humanity. “We’re building five homes in seven days, with the help of five professional homebuilders. At the same time, other groups around the country will build a total of 263 homes. This means that, nationally, more than 1,000 people will be moving out of substandard housing into their new home.”

Construction workers and tradesmen of all kinds swarm over the East Portland building site.

Not a handout
The potential homeowners who come into the Habitat for Humanity program are currently living in substandard housing conditions, Eby said. “We give people who earn lower incomes the chance to become first-time homeowners.”

But, this program isn’t a form of welfare, she added. “This is absolutely not a handout; it’s actually a hand up,” explained Eby.

First, the participants must qualify, meaning they must have steady employment and good credit. “Once they are accepted into the program, they put in 500 hours of ‘sweat equity’ or community service on habitat projects. Then, they buy the home from us, with a ‘0% interest’ mortgage,” Eby continued.

Geoff Schumacher of Schumacher Custom Homes confers with furnace specialist Brad Bassitt, with Bassitt Heating, about the placement of ductwork in the new Habitat for Humanity home they’re building.

Pro builders volunteer services
Five teams of building contractors raced through the week to finish their assigned home on time.

One of the builders, Geoff Schumacher of Schumacher Custom Homes, took a moment to tell us why he was involved in the project. “We heard about the Blitz in ’06 – we took a look, and saw it as a great project, and wanted to get involved,” he said.

Schumacher said he was happy to be able to give back to the community. “And, the part I like best about my job – on an everyday basis – is handing the keys over to the new homeowner.”

What a difference a week makes! Just seven days later, these homes are finished, and ready for their new owners to move in.

Payments recycle into new houses
Because their mortgage payments are a maximum of 30% of the family’s income, Eby said, the housing is affordable. 100% of their mortgage payment on their house goes toward the equity – and it’s usually less than their rent payment had been. “They’re able to create a future for themselves that they’ve never been able to create before.”

Participants’ mortgage payments go into a rotating fund at Habitat for Humanity, allowing the organization to fund the building of more new homes, Eby explained.

Looks forward to spacious quarters
New homeowner Juana Nene took a break from working on her house. “Today I’m very nervous and excited. My sons have come today to work on my new house. It seems almost impossible; now I have a better future, and more room. Mucho moi bien.”

Juana Nene accepts the keys to her family’s new home from Sam Portesi of Buena Vista Custom Homes.

Seven days later …
A week later, we stopped back in at the site to see the dedication ceremony. One by one, the families came up and received keys to their new homes from the builder who coordinated its construction.

When it came time for Juana Nene to take the keys from Sam Portesi of Buena Vista Custom Homes, she asked that a prepared statement be read, because she was too nervous to speak:

“Even though we waited a few years, it’s been worth the wait. Thank you to all the companies and workers who donated their time and material to construct my house. This house was motivation for my son, José, to graduate from high school. Thank you very much. I really don’t have enough words to say thank you, and God bless you.”

Mt. Hood and Portland Habitat for Humanity merged
Then, few days ago, the organization announced that Portland Habitat for Humanity and Mt. Hood Habitat for Humanity have joined forces to become a single, larger, and more-effective organization.  This newly formed affiliate, “Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East”, will serve the cities of Portland and Gresham, including all of Multnomah County and North Clackamas County.

Judith Huck, President of Classique Floors and previously board chair of Mt. Hood Habitat for Humanity, will serve as chair of the newly formed affiliate.

Find out more about this great organization by visiting www.pdxhabitat.org.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

We caught members of the American Legion Auxiliary #1 in the act of providing the unrestrained hospitality denied to sailors visiting downtown. Check out this exclusive story …

Bob White, 2nd Vice President of American Legion Post #1 (seated), and Cheryl Fulton, member of American Legion Auxiliary #1 (standing, being hugged), welcome sailors to their Post, during the Rose Festival’s Fleet Week.

Story and photo by David F. Ashton
At last! One of the secret stories of the just-completed 2008 Portland Rose Festival can now be told.

Since 1924, the Portland Rose Festival has welcomed sailors from all countries to the annual event. That’s no secret.

Although the naval fleets have shrunk in size – and many ships have grown too large to navigate the Willamette River – four US Navy ships, five US Coast Guard vessels, and sailors from other ships tied up to the seawall, all were downtown during “fleet week”, and offered Portlanders tours of their ships.

Military support organizations operated a “hospitality center” for visiting sailors located at a SW Front Street hotel. But, and here’s something you probably haven’t heard – that facility was purchased and remodeled last year, and the new owners made it clear that their new highbrow clientele wouldn’t appreciate military folks on their property. Portland’s hospitality hung in the balance.

Volunteer grillmaster at the American Legion Post #1, Grant Talmadge, tends the hot dogs.

East Portland American Legion steps up
The good reputation of the Rose City was rescued by the friendship of American Legion Post and Auxiliary #1 on SE 122nd Avenue in the Mill Park neighborhood. They’ve been hosting visiting military folks – including sailors during Fleet Week – for years, in tandem with the downtown location, and have even won awards for it.

This year, with the sudden absence of downtown hospitality, the organization stepped up its efforts, and in outer East Portland, catered the only party there was for visiting sailors.

Cheryl Fulton, a member of American Legion Auxiliary #1, told the story.

“For years, I was involved with the hospitality room for our visiting service people downtown during the Portland Rose Festival,” said Fulton. “We decided to create an activity on Rose Festival Saturday, because there were no other functions for them. Seven years ago, I suggested that we do a hamburger and hot dog barbecue party for them here at the Post.”

Helping to grill up some of the 450 hamburgers consumed during the Rose Festival hospitality mission are Don Mitchell and John Peterson.

Idea slowly builds
The first year, only six sailors accepted their invitation. “We wondered whether or not this was a good idea, but we’ve persisted over the years. Last year we hosted 209 visitors; with the lack of downtown hospitality – we’ll surpass that number this year,” related Fulton.

Bob White, the Post’s 2nd Vice President, said he’s in charge of the food logistics. “With the help of our shifts of volunteer cooks, and twenty Auxiliary members, we’ll be serving 400 hot dogs in 450 hamburgers today. It’s a lot of food, but it’s a great cause. We love having the Navy guys and gals come out.”

Reser’s Fine Foods donated salads to the project, Franz Bakery gave the Post bread and buns, and many members made special dishes at home and brought them in, Fulton added.

Spiriting sailors to SE 122nd Avenue
It’s a long way from Tom McCall Park to Mill Park, so the Post – with the help of Enterprise Car Rentals – ran two shuttle vans driven by a cadre of ten volunteer drivers, starting at noon and ending at 11 p.m.

“They sure put on a great party,” said Jack Morrison from the guided-missile frigate USS Gary. “Going out for drinks and dinner at a restaurant costs more than most sailors can afford. We all appreciate this American Legion Post for showing us the ‘real’ hospitality of Portland.”

Officials in the Navy appreciate the gesture of friendship; the Post has been officially recognized for their work by the U.S. Navy Third Fleet three years running.

Post Commander, Tom Fulton, arrives back at the Post after driving sailors from their ship to the party in Mill Park.

Paying it forward
As we were ready to leave for our next assignment, we met the Commander of the Post, Tom Fulton, who was coming in from driving a shuttle van run.

“When I was in the military, my superiors gave me a helping hand to make sure that I do well. When we help our servicemen enjoy their visit to Portland, they will, hopefully, remember our hospitality. Then, when they retire, perhaps they’ll ‘pay it forward’ by offering hospitality to those in active duty.”

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

See why the number of prostitutes working 82nd Avenue has skyrocketed. And, the tragic news is that even more of these “sex workers” aren’t even old enough to drive …

In outer East Portland, the prostitution trade isn’t plied in the dead of night. Working without fear, most prostitutes – like this woman, later arrested, and charged with soliciting prostitution – openly troll for customers in the light of day.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
A couple of weeks ago, we told you how – even though it’s vastly understaffed – the Portland Police Bureau Drug & Vice Division (DVD) goes after the fifty or so local sex-for-sale pushers, commonly known as pimps.

We learned from Sgt. Doug Justice, the man who currently heads DVD, how their three-person “division” targets pimps who are promoting prostitution using underage girls.

“Even though we see it on the rise, we don’t have the manpower to go after street-level prostitution,” Justice added. “We leave that to the precincts.

Although a little blurry because this photo was taken at a great distance and through glass, the john looks jolly to be making a deal for a street-side sex act, just off SE 82nd Avenue of Roses. He didn’t look happy for long.

Local action heats up
On any afternoon or evening these days, along 82nd Avenue of Roses, it seems like we’re seeing more and more “girls on the stroll” – prostitutes, slowly walking along, or hanging out at bus stops as bus after bus rolls by.

“It’s not your imagination,” says Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Rich Steinbronn who, along with Officer Michael Gallagher and a team of cops, is working a prostitution mission. “Prostitution has been steadily increasing – and with nice weather, it’s really taken off. Typically they really don’t like working in the rain. But if they’re forced to, they’ll work in any kind of weather.”

It isn’t necessarily the way these prostitutes wear their hair, dress, or are made up that makes them stand out as being different from female pedestrians – as we learn from Gallagher, as we watch the action on 82nd Avenue, while hidden in an undercover police vehicle. “Normally, women who walk along a street don’t keep looking around trying to make eye contact with passing cars,” he says.

After the undercover officer gives the signal, she walks away and the “custody team” of uniformed officers rush the man about to be charged with soliciting prostitution.

Prostitution reduces ‘quality of life’
As we wait for officers and decoys to get into position, the officers candidly admit they’ll never put an end to street prostitution. “Street prostitution ‘imports crime’ – it brings individuals into a neighborhood for the purpose of committing an illegal act,” Gallagher says.

“Unlike a ‘john’ (customer) who sets up a ‘date’ (sex-for-money meeting) from a CraigsList ad in a motel room or apartment,” Steinbronn adds, “these johns will drive the prostitute around the corner and into the neighborhoods alongside 82nd Avenue. They’ll do it in a church parking lot, in front of a school, just along a side street. They leave behind used condoms.”

Beyond negative impacts on neighborhoods, the officers say they’ve seen an alarming rise in the number young girls – as young as 14 years of age – being pressured into prostitution.

Instead of having the illicit sexual thrills he’d expected, this alleged john is getting another kind of excitement – being arrested, booked, and taken to jail. If his wife or girl friend is on the car title, she will have to be present when the car is released from seizure, and that might be a little exciting too.

Taking johns to jail
With all of the team in place, we watch as this “female decoy mission” or “john mission” swings back into action.

We watch a female Portland Police Officer, dressed in very ordinary, casual clothing – not a flashy, attention-getting costume – slowly walk up and down 82nd Avenue. Unlike some street prostitutes we’ve observed, these female undercover officers don’t shout, wave, or point at passing cars.

Within minutes, though, we see the driver of a car on 82nd Avenue slow down and make eye contact with the undercover officer. The driver turns in a side street and slowly drives past the undercover vehicle, and then turns into a restaurant parking lot. He motions for the officer to walk over to him.

It doesn’t take long for the john to propose a sex act for a specific amount of money. The undercover officer makes an innocuous gesture that signals the “Custody Team” of uniformed officers to swoop in and make the arrest.

Although another john tried to speed away after being busted by an undercover cop, the custody team closed in on him before he could escape the long arm of the law.

As fast as they can book them
“It’s amazing how many guys go cruising 82nd Avenue looking for a prostitute,” Steinbronn says. “We would arrest many more johns during each mission, except for the time it takes for our custody team to process and transport each of these alleged prostitution customers to the Justice Center, and book them into jail.”

Eager prostitutes don’t heed cops
We noticed two females, dressed in inappropriately short skirts and low-cut blouses, wearing a great deal of makeup, and strolling along in shoes with heels so high that most women would consider wearing them “cruel and unusual punishment”. A man, dressed in prototypical zoot suit attire, walks with them.

The group seems oblivious to the police cars roaring by with emergency lights flashing as another john gets busted.

Officer Gallagher says he recognizes the trio from past prostitution missions. He radios to a marked patrol car and asks officers to move them down the avenue so they can continue working their mission.

In all, their team arrested seven johns in one day, and eleven the next.

Asked why half of their missions are focused on arresting johns, Steinbronn explains, “Without the demand created by the johns, there wouldn’t be the supply of prostitutes working the street.”

The prostitution mission custody team swoops in to take another alleged prostitute into custody.

Picking up prostitutes
After two days of working ‘female decoy’ missions, the team switches to a ‘male decoy’ operation.

Here’s how it works: A male Portland Police Officer, driving an ordinary looking car, cruises along 82nd Avenue of Roses, and slows down for women who make eye contact or motion to them. “If the gal gets into the car, they usually make the deal for a sex act in exchange for money while they drive back into the neighborhood,” Gallagher tells us.

“The girls working along here know that we’re doing missions,” Steinbronn says. “Still, they’ll open a stranger’s car door and hop in. Sometimes they will ask the officer to expose himself, or ask him to touch them, to prove he’s not a cop, before they’re willing to make or accept the proposition. We don’t do that; if they insist, we have no choice but to let them go.”

But from our observation, there is no shortage of street-level prostitutes willing to gamble about being busted along the avenue. 13 prostitutes are arrested one day, another 12 the next – again, as rapidly as the custody team can book and transport them to jail.

From far north along 82nd Avenue, down to the Clackamas County line where this alleged prostitute is arrested, cops find no shortage of sex for sale on the street.

Crime of little consequence
Their missions are focused on curbing prostitution along 82nd Avenue this time, Steinbronn comments. “We found very few prostitutes working NE Sandy Boulevard, in the Parkrose area. They’ve really congregated along the length of 82nd Avenue, from Sandy south to Clackamas County.”

We ask the officers why they think prostitution along 82nd Avenue of Roses is flourishing.

Choosing their words carefully, the officers say that since certain Portland City ordinances were allowed to end, the number of prostitutes working has increased, because there is little consequence if they’re arrested.

“Let me illustrate it like this,” Steinbronn explains. “We arrested a gal yesterday. She was taken into custody and to jail. And, we arrested the same gal again today, still wearing the exact same clothes she had on yesterday.”

When a custody team officer asked why she was back out on the street again, hopping – unknowingly – into another undercover police car, Steinbronn says the cop reported she said, “I need to turn two tricks [sex acts] today. I don’t worry about you guys. I’ll be out [of jail] in a couple of hours.”

Prostitution-free Zones said to be successful
While reinstating Prostitution-free Zones won’t “cure” street-level prostitution, everyone with whom we’ve spoken in law enforcement says they were a good “tool” to reduce the prevalence of street-sex sales activity.

We’re told that since cities in the Seattle region have stepped up anti-prostitution enforcement and instituted ordinances, their rates of prostitution have dropped – and prostitutes themselves report that they’ve traveled south to work the Portland street, because the demand is high and the penalties are low.

Perhaps when the makeup of Portland’s city government changes in the new year, city leaders will once again revisit the Prostitution-free Zone ordinance. If they want to hear it, Portland’s own police officers will tell them that the zones really do help reduce the sex – openly for sale – on outer East Portland streets.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

If you couldn’t come by, take a look at the fun we all had as outer East Portland neighbors gathered for the tradition of celebrating the 4th of July on July 3rd …

The parade is the big feature of the day – but many festivities lead up to the event.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Perhaps only in outer East Portland does the community turn out to celebrate Independence Day on July 3rd!

Nevertheless, nearly 300 kids and adults showed up this year at the East Portland Community Center for the day-early star-spangled event.

East Portland Community Center recreation coordinator and parade director Molly King, working with Asst. Building Director Ali Rice, plan their parade strategy – with the help of Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division Sgt. Robert Voepel.

“It’s a great community event that is fun for everyone,” East Portland Community Center recreation coordinator, and parade director, Molly King, said of the event. “And, we do have a beautiful day to celebrate!”

King said this week’s event marked the 11th year of holding the parade. “Both the event, and the number of people who come, have grown over the years,” Kin said. “It started out being just being a parade that marches down to CherryWood Village and back. Now, we have all kinds of pre-parade activities.”

Mia Pinzelik is focusing all of her attention on climbing the rock wall.

Brian Baker helps his daughter Mari make crafts.

The community center staff was busy at a table providing craft fun that kids love. From face painting, to flag making and tattoos, kids and their parents all looked as if they truly enjoyed the sunny outdoor event.

Brian Baker and his daughter Mari said they were there for the first time. “It’s fun and really festive,” Baker told us. “It seems like there a lot of people here having fun.”

The community center’s hot dog chef (and recreation leader) is Bob Calhoun.

Giant, plump $1 hot dogs rolled on the grill – and were snapped up by the hungry crowd. Those wanting a lighter snack made their way to the popcorn tent.

“We’ve expanded our community information booth this year,” commented King. “But it looks like bringing in the rock-climbing wall was a great addition.”

About 11:30 a.m., the parade formed behind the Portland Police Bureau Color Guard and moved out along SE 106th Avenue – and the tradition was again underway.

On the parade route …

Leading off the parade are member of the Portland Police Bureau’s Color Guard Officer Jerry Higginbotham, who works in the Chief’s office; SE Precinct  Officer Tom Rhodes and East Precinct Officers Jennifer Hertzler and Rob Brown. Following them is Portland Police Highland Guard Piper Erin Anderson says he doubles as an East Precinct officer on his “days off”.

First President of Cherrywood Village, Elaine Burns, rides in the Yellow Corvette. I’m in my 10th year at Cherrywood.

Some come in costume – other kids just like walking in the parade.

This event appeals both to the young – and the young at heart! Outer East Portland residents Red DeMars, Solveig Johdahl and Lynn Simmons have come out to enjoy the parade.

Portland Parks & Recreation spokesperson Beth Sorenson, hands out cool treats after the march.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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