Portland, OR

This man is on a quest to clean up the garbage around homeless camps

Rose Bak

Terrance Moses hopes to help homeless campers maintain safety, improve sanitation, and be good neighbors.

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Photo courtesy of Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX

One of the top complaints neighbors have about homeless camps in their neighborhood is garbage. Trash accumulation not only is an eyesore, but it also attracts rodents and increases health risks for people living nearby.

While many people bemoan the problem, one North Portland man decided to take action to fill a gap that wasn't being addressed by city agencies and homeless services providers. Terrance Moses, a military veteran and active volunteer in his north Portland Kenton neighborhood, wanted to make a difference. In 2016, he founded a non-profit called Neighbors Helping Neighbors to tackle the trash problem and help reduce the impact of homeless camps on local neighborhoods.

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Photo courtesy of Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX

Moses was inspired to start the nonprofit after he saw a post on the social media site Nextdoor asking for someone to help with a large camp on the Peninsula Trail. Moses recalls:

I went there and met with the houseless living there and asked them how can we help you and what do you need? They replied we could use some trash removal that would be the biggest thing and food. I said I can do that but in return I will need you to do something for me to be able to keep this service going. I asked them to place all their trash in bags, in the designated area, and help load the trailer when I show up. I told them, I will supply you with everything you need, but one other thing is that you have to be respectful of the trail walkers and surrounding neighbors. Then I saw the need grow more camps popping up more social media complaints so I made it my mission to provide support for our growing houseless population."

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Photo courtesy of Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX

After starting with the camp at Peninsula Trail, Moses heard of other camps that needed support. He started out picking garbage up in his own truck to haul it away, and later added volunteers to help with major clean-ups. The homeless campers are also asked to assist.

As word got around, Moses and his nonprofit Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX began to expand outside of North Portland to other sites in the city. Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX receives no government support, relying on donations from community members and local businesses and volunteer labor.

Now Moses and his volunteers are out in the community as much as seven days a week, collecting trash, handing out supplies, and dropping loads of debris off at the garbage dump. It's hard work but Moses is committed to helping people who are living on the streets and helping them be good neighbors to those who are housed nearby.

In 2020 the group collected 211,000 pounds of trash from homeless camps.

In addition to running Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX Moses is also a frequent volunteer at the Kenton Women's Village, actively participates in the Kenton Neighborhood Association, and has a small business that specializes in repairing computers, phones, and other electronics.

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Photo courtesy of Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX

Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX is about much more than just collecting trash. Moses and his team also get to know the folks living on the street. They hear their stories and encourage them to help give back to the community by assisting with trash collection and helping other campers reduce disruptions to the neighborhood.

Moses and the team also do welfare checks on people experiencing homelessness, connecting them to social services programs in Portland, and provide needed supplies. During recent heatwaves, Moses and his volunteers helped distribute water and other supplies to people living on the street and provided information on cooling centers to those who wanted to get out of the heat.

One of the biggest surprises of the work has been the discovery that some of the garbage that accumulates at homeless camps was not brought in by homeless people. Campers regularly share stories with Moses about vehicles coming to the camp and dumping household garbage include appliances, furniture, and other items. The practice angers campers who get blamed for items that clearly come from illegal dumping from housed residents.

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Photo courtesy of Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX

Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX has a massive clean-up scheduled for Delta Park on Saturday, August 28th. Moses states that the site was selected because "the winding roads and as the debris and trash fill the side of the road it can become easily a traffic fatality if spilled further into the road!"

But Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX cannot do it alone. Their efforts are funded entirely by donations. Moses is currently running a fundraising campaign to help install trash drop boxes at the site and pay hauling fees. Volunteers are also needed.

Moses is also interested in working with other community groups who want to replicate his efforts to help clean up trash in their own neighborhoods.

For more information on how you can help get involved or support the efforts of Neighbors Helping Neighbors PDX visit their Facebook page.

#portland #oregon #homeless #homelessness #camping #volunteer

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Rose Bak is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and special needs dogs. She writes on a variety of topics including local news, homelessness, poverty, relationships, yoga, and aging. She is also a published author of romantic fiction. For more of Rose's work, visit her website at rosebakenterprises.com or follow her on social media @AuthorRoseBak.

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