Lee Greer has lived in SE Portland for over 30 years. Formerly a case manager for Multnomah County and a Legal Aid Lawyer, she currently chairs the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association (SNA) Emergency Preparedness Committee. In this role she leads the effort to ensure our neighbors have the knowledge and resources to be safe and ready in the event of the unforeseeable. We sat down with her to discuss her current projects and her role in her neighborhood association.
How and why did you get involved with the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association?
I’ve lived in the neighborhood since ’85 and at some point I started going to neighborhood association meetings. After I retired I spent a year teaching English in Poland and I was thinking I might sell my house and work in other places and travel. But while I was gone I realized I missed the neighborhood and that I felt really attached to it. When I came back I decided I wanted to become more involved in my neighborhood, and that eventually resulted in my joining the Sunnyside board.
What do you feel are the benefits of volunteering with your neighborhood association, and can you give me an example?
I’ve been involved with the neighborhood emergency teams for four or five years and after I got on the board we formed an emergency preparedness committee, which was designed to serve as a liaison between all the different groups that were doing emergency preparedness in the neighborhood. The Neighborhood Association is a perfect place to do that. I wanted to be sure the different groups are talking to each other and coordinating efforts.
Could you tell me about the SNA Emergency Preparedness Committee you’re working on?
The committee connects the neighborhood association with the neighborhood emergency team (NET) and the parents group at the Sunnyside Environmental School. We get people talking to each other about what the other groups are doing. That’s the main thing. We facilitate joint projects. We helped get storage space for NET team emergency supplies. We solicit donations. We’ve also done emergency preparedness education.
What is the relationship between the Sunnyside Emergency Preparedness Committee and the Sunnyside Neighborhood Emergency Team (NET)?
There’s a good deal of overlap between the groups, although we have a number of individuals who are not part of the NET team but are involved as Emergency Preparedness Committee members. We try to keep them conceptually a little separate even though we meet at the same time. We keep them separate because as a NET team, there are certain things we need to focus on and certain things we shouldn’t be doing. The Net Teams are under Portland Bureau of Emergency Management and they have a lot of say in what we do. The preparedness committee has more flexibility.
The main difference is the NET team members have gone through the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management training. We’re trained in light search and rescue, trauma medicine; all kinds of interesting things. It’s very hands-on, and in order to become a member of the NET team you have to go through that training and you also have to do at least 12 hours of volunteering or NET activities during the year. The Emergency Preparedness Committee is open to anybody in the neighborhood who has an interest in preparedness. And we’ve had people who first come to the Emergency Preparedness meetings and then decide to become NET members.
Sunnyside is roughly 64% renters, many of which may not have the space to store emergency supplies – water and food – to last the recommended 72 hours. Given these constraints, what advice would you give them to prepare for an emergency?
That’s a really important issue, and also there are people who are really low income who can’t afford to be stashing away things, whether they have space for them or not. I tell people; first, do as much as you can, start with some water. There are places in an apartment where you can put things; under the bed, for example. Even a couple of day’s supplies will be really helpful. Another thing; it’s important to keep a pair of sturdy shoes and a flashlight next to your bed because the most common injury in an earthquake is cut feet from broken glass. Windows will break, dishes will fall off your shelves, and if it’s dark and you’re staggering around you’re going to hurt your feet! So those are some things people can do that don’t take up a lot of space.
Also, get involved with your neighbors; you can help each other out. Apartments can be really well-adapted for that. Being close to your neighbors, you can know who has what needs and who has what supplies.
What is the most unusual or unexpected item in your emergency kit?
I actually have two emergency kits. One is my NET kit, which has my knee pads, crowbar, first aid supplies, and other things like that. Then I have my own go-bag which is what I would grab if I were evacuating. In my go-bag, I would say the most crucial item is a tiny little stove and a jar of instant coffee [Laughs], because that’s what I’m going to need in an emergency to keep myself going. I don’t normally even drink instant but I had to sacrifice. In my NET pack, one of the things I have is a little wedge of wood. We were given them at a search and rescue training because if you’re going into a building, the door might slam shut behind you, so you jam the door open with the wedge. So that’s an odd little item people might not know about.
Given your previous work experience, how do you think the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association, and NA’s in general, could be more inclusive of neighbors with disabilities?
That’s something I’ve actually have been thinking a lot about lately. I’ve been contemplating organizing some workshops about emergency preparedness for people with disabilities. I have some materials and ideas and I know a lot of people with disabilities in the neighborhood from my previous work. I think it could be a good starting point and could get a conversation going.
In looking ahead to your third year on the board, what are some key things you hope to focus on?
Well, you’re assuming I’m going to be re-elected [laughs]. I’m continuing to focus on emergency preparedness. I’m also focusing on neighborhood trees. The Sunnyside Street Tree Team has just become a committee at the Neighborhood Association and I’m going to be the liaison to the board for the group.
Additionally, I’ve noticed that when people come to the board with issues about homeless people it’s usually about what kinds of problems they’re causing, and I’d like to try to broaden the scope of the conversation. I’m wondering what can be done to assist these people to become more involved in the neighborhood. How can they be encouraged to take more ownership and have more responsibility in the neighborhood? That’s a bit of a challenge and it’s something I’m interested in.
I hear about groups working on issues along Hawthorne and to some extent on Belmont, and I don’t doubt there have been people who have been harassed by people begging and so forth. But I personally haven’t found that to be an issue, and I’m on Hawthorne a lot. I think there are assumptions that people are going to cause problems when in fact they’re not causing problems. The people I’ve been bothered by are soliciting for non-profits. I’ve been followed and yelled at and really bothered a lot. Businesses say that people see homeless people and people begging in front of their store and cross the street. If I see somebody with a clipboard in front of their place, I’m probably going to cross the street. I feel there’s a double-standard for people who we think are homeless. I haven’t heard anybody say we should work on the issues of people being harassed by those who are soliciting funds. If it’s an issue for one group of people it should be an issue for everybody.