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Hillsdale Fights Back Against Graffiti

[Posted Friday, February 12, 2021]

Graffiti is taking over surfaces in the public view all over Portland, and Hillsdale is no exception. But a group of local volunteers has decided it’s time to take back Hillsdale’s dumpsters, walls, and signs from the taggers.

Volunteers gather.
The "Usual Suspects" gather in front of Basics Market in Hillsdale for the monthly trash pick-up. Photo: Michael Reunert.

More than 30 people turned out for Hillsdale’s Usual Suspects litter patrol on Saturday, February 6, energized by a recently created Facebook group called Hillsdale/Multnomah Clean-Up Crew. The Usual Suspects have been meeting monthly to pick up trash around Hillsdale for the past ten years or so. This month they got reinforcements, led by Markham resident Todd McDonald, who showed up with buckets and cleaning supplies and a grudge against graffiti.

Back in August, Lara Jones, owner of SW Portland Martial Arts/Crossfit Hillsdale, told the Hillsdale News about the effect of vandalism on top of pandemic restrictions: "It's a terrible feeling to be struggling so much as a business and have someone vandalize the property." In December, Julie Seid, owner of All Paws Pet Wash and manager of the building on the north side of Capitol Hwy, reported that she had spent many hours and around $1500 over just the preceding few months cleaning up graffiti. Jayesunn Krump of Portland Camera Service on the south side of the street, near Basics Market, reported much the same experience during his short time in business at this location.

A few months ago McDonald heard from Jones about her frustrations with the graffiti. “Lara painted a picture of how demoralizing it was for businesses during this time to have people vandalizing their signs, and the damage to our community, and I realized that [graffiti removal] is something I can do,” McDonald says. He stocked up on cleaning supplies and spent a few hours a month cleaning up graffiti he could see from his car. “It felt good to get out during this time and serve the community.”

At the same time, Jones, who in addition to running a business has done a fair amount of community organizing over the past few years in SW Portland, turned to Facebook for help. She created the Hillsdale/Multnomah Clean-Up Crew, a place to post graffiti sightings, successful clean-ups, as well as tips and information on effective cleaning strategies.

More than 60 people have joined the group so far. COVID-safe outdoor events are appealing right now, lending themselves to physical distancing and lots of fresh air. Hillsdale resident Rick Seifert, one of the founders of the monthly work party, reports that the Usual Suspects have continued to meet during the pandemic, gloved, masked, and distanced. For more on the Usual Suspects, see below.

The best defense against graffiti and other types of vandalism is cleaning up early and often, says Acting Sergeant Matthew Jacobsen of the Portland Police Neighborhood Response Team.

Quick removal of taggers’ vandalism is one way to discourage them. Another strategy some business owners and volunteer graffiti-removers are considering is setting up remote surveillance systems. Portland Camera Service’s Krump says Hillsdale business owners are vigilant, keeping an eye out and taking steps to catch the vandals in the act.

Which is exactly what Papa John’s Pizza manager Paul Richards managed to do. One night in December as he was leaving work around 2:30 a.m. he spotted two young men with backpacks. One of them was using a can of spray paint to tag the roll-down shutter at Portland Camera Service. Richards yelled and chased them but didn’t see where they went. He may have recognized one of them but isn’t certain.

Volunteers gather.
Todd McDonald distirbutes supplies and shares tips on effective graffiti removal. Photo: Michael Reunert.

Because graffiti gets harder to remove with time (and invites more), it's best to tackle the clean up as soon as possible. McDonald is often able to get out quickly and eradicate newly reported graffiti. He invites others to clean up graffiti that they see posted on the Clean-Up Crew Facebook page or tags they encounter in their daily travels. They shouldn’t wait for the monthly work party. With the right tools, McDonald says, graffiti removal can be easy and satisfying.

Join the Clean-Up Crew on Facebook for tips from McDonald on the best supplies, how to get graffiti clean-up kits, and reminders for the Usual Suspects monthly work party.

Sergeant Jacobsen urges residents to report graffiti and vandalism to the police department using the online reporting system. With staffing at greatly reduced levels since July of last year, he says that officers often don’t have time to respond to the scene, but that it’s still important to file a report: “As we are asked to cut more and more from our budget, crime stats are the one thing we can fall back to in order to show the need for more police officers on the streets of Portland. If those incidents are not reported, it’s as if they did not happen.”


More than just the Usual Suspects

The "Usual Suspects" monthly community trash pick-up was started by some community-minded volunteers and has been going on for about 10 years. Last year, the Hillsdale Community Foundation (HCF) took over management of the effort, as part of HCF's community-building efforts. They also added a second volunteer opportunity for "Garden Variety, Usual Suspects" to help with maintaining the plantings along Capitol Highway that were installed several years ago as part of the Hillsdale Main Street Program. Saturday, February 6th, was the first time that graffiti clean up was added to the volunteer activities. This effort will likely continue going forward, and while there isn't an official name, the "Tag Team" has been suggested.


Join the Usual Suspects for one-hour of trash pick-up and graffiti removal at 9 a.m. on the first Saturday of the month in front of Basics Market.

Join the Facebook group Hillsdale/Multnomah Clean-Up Crew

--Valeurie Friedman


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