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Homeless kids get spruced-up playground


As part of a one-day makeover on Earth Day, the bare, muddy bank adjacent to the play area behind Peace Church of the Brethren received some much needed landscaping and plants. From sunrise to sundown, the church's basement is home to Human Solutions Daybreak Shelter Network for homeless families.
When you're hired at Human Solutions, you're encouraged to visit facilities to learn about the mission and programs the East County social service agency offers.

When Sheila Guernsey, who was hired as special events coordinator in January, toured the Daybreak Shelter Network - Human Solutions' facility that serves homeless families from the basement of Peace Church of the Brethren in outer Southeast Portland - she saw a need. Not homeless family needs, but a homeless kid's need for a better place to play. “That's what made me the saddest, all these little peanuts in here; they could climb and jump, and that was about it,” said Guernsey.

The small play area behind the church, nestled in a patch of healthy, old-growth Douglas Firs, had only a play structure, no swings, a bare bank, and no landscaping. So, when it was wet, kids not only tracked mud in, but there were also safety concerns as they came in and out of the building. “The stairs were dangerous,” said Guernsey. Pointing towards the church's basement door she said, “Here was the stairs, and here was the dirt; I was worried about the kids.”

With her network of contacts, it took Guernsey only a few telephone calls before she had a solution lined up.

Her first call was to Corey Verch, manager of residential design/build at Dennis' 7 Dees Landscaping & Garden Centers, who Guernsey said she met while serving on a committee together. She presented the idea to him, and he suggested that with Earth Day approaching and with Dennis' 7 Dees a member of the Professional Landscaper Network trade association, he would use the company's annual PLANET Day of Service to give the church's playground a much needed make-over. “I said let's clean this up,” she said. “And he said, 'let's combine the two events and do it.' He improved on my ideas. He's really good like that.”

Another call for help Guernsey made was to Rainbow Park & Playground, who agreed to donate and install new swings.

Verch garnered donations for bark dust and wood chips and got Parr Lumber to donate pressure-treated wood for new steps. He also brought seven experienced 7 Dees employees to do the one-day makeover that included the application of edging and mulch, installing the new timber and gravel steps, measures for erosion control and drainage, new plants, a new foot path, and a perimeter mow strip around fences and trees.

“We thought it was a great fit because today is the PLANET day of service, and Earth Day,” Verch said. “Sheila had this idea over here; I came over and looked at it with her, and for a day project, it couldn't be any better. It fit the scope so well, and then the Human Solutions and homeless …. It fit really well.”

In addition to professional landscapers, Job Corps students, volunteers from Hillsboro's Sunrise Church and Daybreak Shelter users helped shovel, rake, spread and plant.

Through a golf tournament in 2012, Dennis' 7 Dees Landscaping & Garden Centers raised more than $50,000 for the Human Solutions homeless family program.

With a 15-person capacity and open year-round, Daybreak Shelter for Homeless Families, at 12727 S.E. Market St. operates out of the Peace Church of the Brethren and is Human Solutions' foundation program for homeless families and the only secular shelter in Mid-County.

Including food, showers and laundry facilities, the shelter meets homeless families' basic needs. Families using the shelter also have access to housing placement and other services to help get them off the street.

Human Solutions, a social service agency that operates in outer Southeast Portland and East Multnomah County, promotes self-sufficiency for homeless and low-income families and individuals. The agency's primary program areas are overcoming homelessness, affordable housing, employment and economic development, and safety net services such as rent and utility assistance. For more information, visit
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