There’s more to Portland than just downtown
Contrary to popular belief, Portland isn’t just a little hipster city filled to the brim with gluten-free bakeries, food carts and artsy boutiques.
Just across I-205 lies a whole new world: East Portland. Separated from the rest of the city by the Willamette River, East Portland houses at least a quarter of Portland’s population.
It is also regarded as the poorest part of the city.
East Portland is one of the most diverse parts of this sprawling city. On a given day, a trip through East Portland would supply samples of Vietnamese, Spanish and Russian culture, language and food. Many of the business signs are written in foreign languages, making distinguishing what a business is quite hard for the residents of and visitors to East Portland.
But along with this diversity comes danger. East Portland has some of the highest crime rates in the greater-Portland area. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the mortality rate there is 978 per 100,000 people—341 more deaths per 100,000 people than the rest of Portland. East Portland boasts a population of around 150,000, roughly the size of Eugene or Salem. With a population that size and a space ranging roughly fifty square miles, East Portland is basically a city within a city.
Besides high mortality and crime rates, East Portland also has high obesity rates. In an article published in Willamette Week, journalist Corey Penn stated that, judging from data taken from 74,000 driver’s licenses, 53 percent of East Portlanders can be classified as obese. The rest of the city sees a rate of 42 percent. The county suggests this is the result of the lack of full-service grocery stores and an abundance of fast food and convenience stores.
It would appear that East Portland is what Penn calls a “food desert,” devoid of healthy food and shopping choices, and safe places for its younger residents.
But a select few are working to change that.
Seeing as East Portland houses 25 percent of Portland’s population, these problems are very attractive to those running for the position of Portland’s mayor. The top three candidates for mayor have all made fixing the poverty issues facing East Portland part of their election campaign platforms.
These political candidates aren’t alone in their wishes to help clean up East Portland. Both the Police Activities League Youth Center on 172nd Avenue and the Rosewood Café on 162nd Avenue are working toward making East Portland a safer and more habitable place for its residents.
The Police Activities League Youth Center offers after-school activities for the children and young adults throughout East Portland. According to Penn, about 70 to 150 kids come to the center after school gets out every day. The center also offers dinner for the kids, a meal that is sometimes their third publicly funded meal of the day.
While the Police Activities League Youth Center is aimed at helping younger kids, the Rosewood Café serves as a community center. While the décor is sparse—card tables and folding chairs are the only furniture—its purpose is to serve as a uniting mechanism for a community that previously had no place for community meet-ups and activities.
The fact that places like these exist in an area stricken with poverty and crime is a testament to the fact that the local government wants change for the inhabitants of East Portland. Multnomah County spent $14,000 creating the Rosewood Café with the hopes that it would help create a more positive identity for the people living in East Portland.
For the Rosewood Café, public money covers a majority of the costs, and volunteers are constantly working on getting funds and donations to keep the café open to the public.
Many inhabitants of East Portland are doing everything they can to make the area more safe and livable, but they aren’t quite enough. With the exception of a few food banks and a Habitat for Humanity branch, there are almost no charities or nonprofits working to better the living conditions help create a sense of community for those living in East Portland.
Students and Portland residents alike should see this as an opportunity to get active. The impoverished conditions faced by those living in East Portland are ones that no human should face. People should get out and get active. Seeing as hardly any charities currently exist, start one! Have a bake sale and donate the funds to the Rosewood Café or the Police Activities League Youth Center. And while volunteering on the eastside might be out of the comfort zone for some, it is another way to help the people of East Portland build community and better their lives.
Basically, we have human rights to feeling safe and secure, and what better way to spend your free time than to help others have that same sense of security and community?