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Courtyard Task Force

In January 2021, an inter-committee task force was formed to explore the livability and safety issues of the Havurah Shalom courtyard. Representatives from the Garden, Design, Safety, and Poverty/Homelessness committees and staff served on the task force.

It appears that the courtyard is at times a place of respite for neighbors, some of whom are homeless, who appreciate the benches, garden, and cell phone charging opportunities provided. On the other hand, we have also seen evidence of visitors abusing the space with garbage, human waste, and needles sometimes strewn about.

The task force began work to identify and recommend actions to improve the situation for all. Early on, we reached out to the Portland Street Roots Ambassador Program to understand more about life on the streets and think about how we could better engage visitors in mutually respectful and accountable ways.

Two key strategies emerged:

  • A sign would be placed at the entrance to the courtyard to better identify the significance of the space, with the following text: "Welcome to Havurah Shalom. We are a religious community committed to spirituality, learning and social justice. All who seek a peaceful space are welcome in our garden. Please help us care for this courtyard by keeping it clean and beautiful."
  • To keep the courtyard clean and safe, we enlisted the services of a courtyard steward, a frequent visitor named Joseph, to pick up trash and dispose of needles several times per week. The steward is paid a stipend and has been provided with supplies and safety items needed to deal appropriately with trash and needles. No access to the inside of the building has been provided. Joseph reports to Office & Facilities Manager Rachel Pollak, who is available to answer your questions about this arrangement. Joseph has visited the courtyard for over ten years. He finds peace here, often picks up trash without being asked, and loves the space. We were pleased to welcome him. We will continue to make use of a separate outside vendor for human waste cleanup.

Other considerations of the task force:

  • Better outdoor lighting to help keep the courtyard more safe and secure through the installation of new LED lights.
  • Trash containers in the courtyard were discussed but ruled out for security purposes. Efforts are underway to secure a “sharps container” for safe disposals.
  • We researched bathrooms and services in the immediate neighborhood, to provide visitors with possible options. We contacted Rosehaven, a day shelter (at First Immanuel Lutheran Church) with services for women and children, including bathrooms open on weekday mornings. Couch Park has 24-hour restrooms available for men or women.
  • We have been monitoring the progress and will meet again to decide whether other actions are needed.
  • Given many complexities, we wanted to proceed with the above steps before considering the installation of a gate.

The Courtyard Task Force brought together a variety of stakeholders from within Havurah and was able to identify a variety of creative solutions together. The gesher (bridge) process envisions just this sort of cooperation between committees, bringing together many perspectives, experiences and types of expertise to solve problems. Thanks to all who provided their considerate thought, time and effort to this project: Barbara Gundle and Megan Koler (Gardening Committee), Joan Peck & Marcia Suttenberg (Design Committee), Joel Bettridge (Safety Committee), Rachel Pollak (Staff), and Steve Rudman (Poverty & Homelessness Committee).

Sun, May 29 2022 28 Iyyar 5782