We are on the frontline

This photo blog post was written and curated by Sy Schoen, a member of T7 from Los Angeles, California.  He is a licensed EMT and WEMT, so he helps people stay safe.  Sy is also an aspiring songwriter, ultimate Frisbee player, and photographer.  He interns at PCUN, advocating for rights for farmworkers and immigrants, as well as Tivnu construction.

Some days at the morning construction briefing, Erik or Andy (the Cascadia Clusters executive director) will bring up the fact that we at Tivnu are the front line when building for houseless communities in Portland.  The 10×10 platforms we build at the different communities become the bases for tents the very day they are constructed.  The gatehouse we built at the Old Town Village was immediately utilized to better monitor the people that came in and out of the camp.  That phrase, “being on the front line,” profoundly motivates me every day while working at Tivnu.

I carefully adjust the chop saw to 29 degrees and make an angled cut on my 7-foot 2×4 wood.  The calm saw cuts motivate me.  Despite the pouring rain outside the canopy, I feel in my element.  I reach into my tool belt and take out my tape measure and speed square and continue to work.  When I am finished cutting a few pieces of wood, I trudge up the muddy path back to the lean-to, with the right-sized lumber wet in my gloves.  I am locked in as I work methodically, and each day brings a new challenge.

The discomfort of the wet and muddy walk is sometimes par for the course at construction.  On my first day on the job site about three months ago, I felt exhilarated yet overwhelmed.  There was so much to learn about construction, so many new tools to practice with, and so many skills to master.  I was ready to put wholehearted effort into improving the housing arrangements for the houseless communities in Portland, although I needed to find how I could fit into that equation.  And that would take time.  But as each day at construction passes, I feel more at home with the work I am doing, whether it’s successfully leveling a piece of wood with the reciprocating saw or stepping out of the Tivnu van at the Old Town houseless community and seeing residents of the camp eager to help us out right away.

We builders are at the center of the evolving solution for these houseless communities.  We have constructed a gatehouse for one camp, multiple platforms at other camps, and recently, a few other Tivnoodles and I were commissioned to build adjustable contraptions for solar panels that can provide power for houseless communities.  Being one of the few people responsible for this very important task is empowering.  We Tivnoodles were the only people in Portland working on that solar power project, and the magnitude of that realization rocked me.  I became more in touch with the building of those solar contraptions; it wasn’t just any old mindless task.  There was such a sense of intentionality behind each dado cut, each screw, each curved edge made by the grinder.  Our construction work galvanizes me each and every day and allows me to truly enjoy the work and to appreciate the recipients of the work.

We are also in the middle of an extremely charged political and social movement as a social justice gap year program.  During election week, we helped represent the Jewish community in Portland at various protests.  We used our voices and presence to show support for black and brown lives.  As I marched on the outskirts of Hawthorne Bridge chanting phrases of love and support while snapping pictures on my camera and the sun set over the beautiful Willamette River, I felt my highest sense of humanity.  In both our construction work for houseless communities and our protests against systemic racism, we are at the forefront of change that is moving the world in the right direction.

Just like Erik and Andy always say, “We’re on the front line, folks!”



Tivnu in the NY Times

Taking a gap year at home can be as meaningful as doing one abroad.
Featured in The New York Times
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