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Courtyard Task Force

The Courtyard Task Force was formed in January 2021, when it appeared that the courtyard had been at times a place of respite for neighbors, some of whom were houseless, who appreciated the benches, garden, and cell phone charging opportunities provided. On the other hand, Havurah had also seen evidence of visitors abusing the space with garbage, human waste, and needles sometimes strewn about.

The task force brings together a variety of stakeholders from within Havurah, including Barbara Gundle (Gardening Committee), Joan Peck & Marcia Suttenberg (Design Committee), Rachel Pollak (staff), David Kertzner (Steering Committee liaison), and the task force leader, Steve Rudman (Poverty & Homelessness Committee). 

Early findings of the task force can be found here.

Updates from the Courtyard Task Force

News in Hakol:

News in Hineinu:

Aug. 17, 2022 Hineinu - From Havurah Co-President Loree Devery

If you’ve been to the building lately, you may have seen trash or needles in the Havurah courtyard, or encountered people charging their phones, resting on our benches, or worse. Last week, our staff wrote a piece in Hineinu about the challenges of being a shul in the downtown/metro area, where the citywide houselessness crisis impacts us all. In that article, staff wrote about striking a balance between our need for safety and cleanliness and our desire to practice chesed, lovingkindness, whenever possible. This article is to let you know that Havurah leadership is also working on this issue.
Havurah leadership has asked the Courtyard Task Force to meet, hear the concerns and experiences of our members and staff, understand what steps are being taken now, consider adjustments to current practices in order to address concerns, and make recommendations to Steering if policies or practices need to be updated. To read more about the Courtyard Task Force and how to contact that group with your suggestions and concerns, click here.
Thank you for your understanding and patience as we work together to address this sensitive, complicated issue.
Loree Devery, Havurah Co-President

Aug. 10, 2022 Hineinu - From Havurah Staff


As the housing crisis and the pandemic have brought changes to Portland, so too have some difficult challenges come to the Havurah Shalom building. Visitors may see people sitting in our courtyard charging their phones, or just resting. A number of tents have gone up, legally, along Kearney Street. Often there is trash, and sometimes there are needles, attesting to drug use taking place when no is around to curtail it. 

This state of things is painful for all involved. For those returning to the building, it can be shocking or frightening. Staff—Rabbi Benjamin, Deborah Eisenbach-Budner, Adela Basayne, Carrie Kirschner, and Rachel Pollak—want you to know that we are here with you and are always doing our best to promote safety while extending chesed, lovingkindness, to those who also visit our space.

We are serious about being proactive. Just today, video cameras have been installed to help monitor the space and allow staff to see people at the door. Following the recommendation of the Courtyard Task Force, who have examined this set of challenges very closely, we have hired a person not currently housed to clean the space three times a week, and that arrangement has worked well for both parties. Our janitors also clean up outside. 

It is important to note that just as many good things take place outside too. Our courtyard visitors often clean up other people’s messes, without being asked. They thank us for the use of the outlets and the space. We believe we are doing good out there overall.

And yet, problems persist, and likely will until the citywide houselessness problem is solved, hopefully in a compassionate way that really solves problems. In the meantime, we are a microcosm of all the larger issues. 

What can you do?

First, please remember that staff has been working on things both in front of and behind the scenes, and we have deep, long-term experience in relating to the people who come by. Ask us for help if you’re ever nervous about something, or if you want to run a possible solution by us.

Second, take a Havurah Safety Class led by Rachel Pollak. She will cover all of the safety features of the building, and also give some practical advice for dealing with needles and understanding the people you may meet outside. One is taking place Thursday, Aug. 11 (tomorrow!) at 6:30 pm. We really encourage you to do this; the more people who take the class, the more who can help each other feel and be safe at the building.

There is much more we can describe to let you know that we’re on this, but space and time are insufficient. Please be in touch with Adela or Rachel with questions or concerns. We look forward to seeing you at the building soon!

Havurah Staff

March 9, 2022 Hineinu - "Reopening Redux: A Message from Havurah's Presidents"

Our journey back into the building continues. COVID guidelines are being re-examined, and the Refugee Kabbalat Shabbat occurred last Friday. It was gratifying to be in the sanctuary, gathered with others and raising our voices in song together (with masks). 

As more members come back to our building, concerns have been voiced about conditions in the courtyard, and wondering about the possible implementation of additional security measures, such as the installation of a security gate at the entry off NW 18th. 

A Courtyard Task Force was convened last year to consider questions of how Havurah should respond to changing conditions in our courtyard. Their report was published on page three of the May 2021 Hakol.

The Task Force considered a range of options to address security and hygiene issues, including retaining someone to do regular cleanups and improving the outdoor lighting. We installed a sign at the entry, asking those who enter to respect for our garden space, and to keep it clean. We separately signed a contract with a company to clean up hazardous waste. The Task Force also considered installation of a gate but decided to proceed with other steps first. 

Perhaps the time has come in the context of our broader building reopening to evaluate the steps taken previously by the Task Force and discuss whether further, additional steps might be appropriate. If you would be interested in participating in this effort, please contact either Ben Walters or Steve Birkel to let us know.

March 2, 2022 Hineinu - "Reopening – It’s Messy: A Message From Your Presidents"

More activities have started happening in person at Havurah. We’re now holding adult ed classes in person as well as Kabbalat Shabbat services. These are happening in addition to other in-person activities at Havurah, such as B’nei Mitzvah services and Shabbat School, which have been occurring for some time now.

With these new activities in the building, a wider range of members are returning physically to Havurah, and some of you may have not been to the building for the past few years. Things have changed downtown, in our neighborhood, and at our building, and the impact of these changes can be seen in our courtyard. Some of these changes began prior to our COVID shutdown, but they have intensified during the past two years.

In January 2021, a Courtyard Task Force was convened to study how Havurah might respond to the changing conditions, with houseless people entering the courtyard. The decision was made to not close the courtyard with a gate, but to post a sign asking for respect in return for offering a haven.

It is not staff’s responsibility to clean the courtyard, and we have hired an on-call service to clean up biohazards around the building. The costs for this service are included in our annual budget. But this company doesn’t clean up all of the trash or waste that might accumulate. And circumstances are such that sometimes, between the time that the company cleans up the courtyard and a Havurah event, another mess occurs.

If you are organizing an activity at Havurah, please consider walking around the courtyard prior to the event. And if someone happens to be in the courtyard, you could let them know that an event will be taking place. Doing so in a respectful, courteous manner is typically met with corresponding gracious willingness to leave.

We will be looking into expanding the clean-up services and having these occur on a more routine basis. Until then, please bear with us. Everyone is doing the best they can to make our home a welcoming, inviting place.

History of the Courtyard Task Force

The Courtyard Task Force began working in January 2021 to identify and recommend actions to improve the situation described above. Early on, the task force 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.
Tue, July 23 2024 17 Tammuz 5784