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Homeless to paint over Brooklyns graffiti

by: Merry MacKinnon, JOIN’s Executive Director Marc Jolin only has to walk along S.E. 17th Avenue to find graffiti in Brooklyn. An agency for the homeless, JOIN is organizing the homeless to clean graffiti off Brooklyn buildings, as part of a small neighborhood grant received through Southeast Uplift.

JOIN, the nonprofit agency assisting the homeless in Brooklyn previously profiled in THE BEE, has won the respect of the officers of the Portland Police Bureau, who frequently refer homeless men, women, and families they encounter to the agency.

JOIN has also been doing its best to get along with the Brooklyn neighborhood. To further its goodwill effort, JOIN is organizing homeless people to remove neighborhood graffiti, a type of vandalism committed mostly by teenage 'taggers'.

Located on the curve on the north end of S.E. 17th Avenue, not far from Tri-Met's headquarters, JOIN was recently awarded a $4,000 grant from the city, distributed via Southeast Uplift, Inner Southeast's neighborhood coalition office. These funds primarily support graffiti removal.

JOIN's broader mission is to assist the homeless in transitioning off the street and into a home--hence, the name 'JOIN,' which is not an acronym.

JOIN will buy the materials and recruit the homeless and recently-housed to brush fresh paint over graffiti scrawled on buildings in Brooklyn. They will also help with the biennial neighborhood association-sponsored clean-up event. The Brooklyn Action Corps will act as intermediary between JOIN and the Brooklyn businesses and residents who request graffiti removal.

'At every turn, JOIN's team has worked with the neighborhood,' says Adam Tischler, Chair of the Brooklyn Action Corps neighborhood association.

JOIN has already shown its readiness to try to address neighborhood complaints about noise and garbage stemming from homeless camps near residences. 'People who use our service understand the importance of being good neighbors,' says JOIN's Executive Director, Marc Jolin, who adds that the JOIN staff has talked to the homeless about that problem.

Conveying the human face of homelessness, Jolin speaks on their behalf to people who have always had the comfort of a home. 'There's a misperception that a significant number of people sleeping outside have chosen to do that,' he adds. 'That's not the case.' He says a homeless person may decide to sleep outside rather than inside an emergency shelter, for example, because their pet dog is not allowed inside shelters.

'They don't want to continue to be homeless,' assures Jolin. 'It's a terrible way to live.'

During 2007, JOIN--working closely with Portland's graffiti abatement coordinator--will arrange to remove graffiti at a total of 96 sites in Brooklyn. The project also, in a small way, introduces homeless persons back into the workforce. Those who engage in the graffiti removal will receive a $25 stipend for two to three hours of work per outing.

Meanwhile, in Southeast Portland, graffiti has increased in the last year, says Southeast Uplift's Executive Director, Cece Hughley Noel: 'It's the under-18-year-olds,' she says.

Judging by the number of defaced walls along S.E. 17th Avenue, JOIN's crew should have no shortage of work.