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“On the Occasion of my Daughter’s Wedding.”

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“The only remedy for love is to love more.” – Henry David Thoreau

~

Did I ever tell y’all that I was a minister? It’s true. When they told me that felons couldn’t become notary publics I decided that I could do even better, fuck them, and just get ordained. By whom? Why, by the Universal Life Church of Modesto, California, that’s who. I’ve performed a good gaggle of wedding ceremonies before, but there was one that I never expected to officiate – my daughter’s.

Yes, my eldest daughter, Lyssarian, and her soulmate Ram, were married in an intimate ceremony on breathtaking York Beach on a day when it was supposed to rain but didn’t. The minister who was scheduled to perform the ritual (a friend and fellow ULC minister) had a last-minute tragedy to attend to – his brother-in-law had accidentally (I don’t know how you’d do it intentionally) run over himself with his own truck, resulting in his death. So I was honored and graced with the privilege of performing the ceremony myself. After a thousand things that could’ve gone wrong almost did but didn’t, I was… well,

I don’t feel that I performed the ceremony, but rather that I was part of a ceremony, the most beautiful I’ve ever played a part in.

And it was my daughter. Holy… like, my daughter got married!

~

“If you like a flower you pluck it. If you love a flower you water it daily.” – Gautama Buddha

~

My eldest daughter was born on banks of Buffalo Bayou, in Houston, Texas. Know that, as I was adopted I had no recollection whatsoever of anyone made of the same stuff as me. So my eldest daughter was the first blood relative I’d ever seen, ever met. I was only a child myself at the time, just twenty-one, and seeing that woman-child for the first time was true off-screen movie magic. I’d never looked into eyes like mine, never seen a smile just like mine – I touched her tiny fingers and it was like… it was ineffable, there are no words. It was spiritual and religious and magick all at once; it still is.

Lyssarian grew up a genius in a land of mental illness, alcohol addiction, true crime and chaos. She survived her mother’s abusive insanity, my own alcoholic insanity, abandonment and depression and finally rejection by the (my) adopted family – she was kicked out of the family home at the age of 18 by a sick-fuck cousin of mine and by her own godmother, a Christian (!)

On top of all of that I gave my daughter absolutely ghastly examples of what relationships between adults who claimed to love each other could be. Horrid! And yet she made it, Lyssarian Joy, Lyssarian Raged, Lyssarian Invictus. Self-made programmer and working artist, creator of the Holistic Recovery Project’s Prison Project, the Prison Tarot Project, re-creator of the Holistic websites and all of it’s social media. This Zen-Transcendentalist, feminist, riotgrrl, activist – she made it.

She survived and thrived and then did something I couldn’t have imagined her doing, considering the distorted relationships she’d observed her whole life: she decided to get married.

~

“Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

~

Not long after Lyssarian was born, and so during the brief spell that her mother and I were together, I was down at the Newman Center at the University of Houston talking to a priest, and I asked him:

“What’s the deal with marriage, Father? I mean, if two people already love each other, what do they need a piece of paper for?”

“It’s about commitment.” he explained. “An outward declaration of an internal commitment.”

“Ah.”

“And a legal contract.”

“Oh.”

With my brief history of horrific relationships that didn’t exactly sweeten the deal.

Years later, my daughter, same daughter, by then 15 or 16, were walking through this vast, classical New England boneyard at the top of the main hill in Augusta, and Lyssarian asked me:

“What’s the deal with marriage, Dad? I mean, it’s just a piece of paper.”

Now, even by this time I’d had no lasting luck with the forever-relationship thing. Mismatched girlfriends, a bad marriage and at the time of the conversation in a pretty rocky relationship with a rather angry woman. I had no idea what marriage was about, only that it didn’t seem like a good idea for me. What could I possibly tell her, or anyone else for that matter, about marriage?

I knew that I couldn’t mumbo-jumbo this brilliant, already somewhat worldly child, so I took a shot in the dark, and told her:

“Well, I guess that marriage is one of those things that you’ll never understand… until you find the one that you want to marry. Then it will all make sense.”

And maybe when you find that person, it will be the only thing that makes sense.

~

“Don’t brood. Get on with living and loving. You don’t have forever.” – Leo Buscaglia

~

On the day of the ceremony, I was, of course, late. Very late. I’d driven to York Beach with Sunshine, and the powers of darkness had played games with the GPS, sending us off into other directions. Thank Bog that it was a small, intimate affair – I kept only the bride, groom and photographer waiting, standing on the beach. For an hour!

I hadn’t seen Lyss since her arrival in Maine a day earlier, hadn’t seen her in just about a year actually. When we finally showed up in this truly beautiful spot (O.O.B. for the landed gentry) and I finally got to see her, I…

That’s my girl. That’s my little girl, sitting in my lap in the pool outside of our apartment in Houston.

Gosh…

She was wearing a classic white wedding dress, long train, given to her by my bio-sister, Lisa (who I’d finally met several years previous) and altered and updated by an excellent tailor out of Raleigh. The groom, my man Ram, was dressed in well-thought-out renaissance attire (“Can you hold onto my keys?” he asked at the beach. “My pantaloons don’t have pockets.”) and they were both just beautiful. They were both in that state of pre-wedding excitement and anxiety, with further angst added by the late arrival of your humble narrator, the father who was also the minister.

I don’t recall if I had a chance to even hug my daughter before we set off a short distance down some rocks to a magnificent ledge by the ocean. Sunshine handed my daughter a bouquet of red and white roses, and, with everyone in position I asked, “Ready?” and the ritual began.

~

Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.” – Robert Browning

~

I’d been up late the night before (had I slept?) and had written pages and pages of things to say, anecdotes and references to kings and philosophers and anarchists, and I did use some of it.

But,

the love between these two was so obvious, so tangible that it became the overshadowing theme. Their love was the music to which I only had to add lyrics to, and the song wrote itself, perfectly. I’ve never officiated a wedding better, never more eloquently, or more succinctly, and yet, I don’t quite remember exactly what I said. It became their love and the wind, the rings and the ocean, a magnificent opus about everything important in this world, something which is now impossible to dissect. The ceremony in its entirety was so much bigger than any of the individual parts which had come together to make it so.

It was lovely, because it was love.

~

“”God is love.” – St. John

~

When I was a younger lad, I really believed the Beatles when they sang that love was all you needed. Love, right? Then I became older, grooving into my twenties and other things had come up, things which seemed just as important and sometimes maybe even more important: money. In my jaded twenties I came to believe that it was money, not love which made the world go on, which allowed people to reach their goals. Hell, I even felt that you really needed money to become self-actuallized; even in Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” the ultimate wasn’t love, but self-actualization.

No. I really had it right when I was younger, before the world sold me on the religion of America, of the west. Love is all you need. All else follows, and without it, everything else is hollow.

Love!

Now, Lyssarian and Ram are, if you had to pin them down, Zen-transcendentalists, with no specific deity. I’d never done a ‘godless’ ceremony before. What would I reference and what would I refrain from? When in was all over, aside from the overall significance of a moment as surprisingly life-changing for me as it was for them, aside from the beauty and the simplicity of it all, I was graced with this wonderful insight.

Wanna hear it? Here it is:

Love is the god of the godless.

Love.

And despite the absence of a named god in the ritual, God was there on that beach, on that rock, I swear. For there was White Light coming in from every direction, and angels all around us.

~

You must find a place on a woman’s body and live there.
In the dark, the noise far away, Sam ran his hands over Calliope’s body and the world of work and worry seemed to move away. He found two depressions at the bottom of her back where sunlight collected, and he lived there, out of the wind and noise. He grew old there, died and ascended to the Great Spirit, found heaven in her cheek on his chest, the warm wind of her breath across his stomach carried sweet grass and sage, and… In another lifetime he had lived on the soft skin under her right breast, his lips riding light over the ridge and valley of every rib, shuffling through downy, dew damp hairs like a child dancing through autumn leaves. In the mountain of her breast, he fasted at the medicine wheel of her aureole, received a vision that he and she were steam people, mingled wet with no skin separating them. And there he lived, happy. She followed, traveled, lived with him and in him as he was in her. They lived lifetimes and slept and dreamed together. It was swell.”


Christopher Moore, Coyote Blue

~

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My latest piece in the Bollard Magazine: [hed] Life & Death in a Disorderly House [byline] by Robin Rage

“There’s a lake of stew and of whiskey too / You can paddle all around them in a big canoe / In the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

— Harry McClintock, “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” circa 1895 

~

I became officially, no-avenues-left homeless in the spring of 2012. To prove my housing status to the authorities, I spent a night or two at the city shelter on Oxford Street, but otherwise found alternate accommodations, including Old Man Ali’s floor [see “Sheep’s Head Soup,” July 2017], various squats [“Notes From a Cold Peninsula,” Feb. 2017] and the DMZ between West Commercial Street and the Fore River [“Sherwood Forest,” Nov. 2014] before Phineas and the Icelanders (good band name!) conquered and developed it.

~

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The goal from the beginning of the ordeal was to get on The List — the list of homeless people waiting for a housing voucher — and then to get a voucher and secure housing from a landlord who accepted them. I remember calling the housing office at Shalom House, a nonprofit that assists the mentally ill, one cold and rainy day in the fall of 2012, and asking the woman who answered if she could tell me where my name was on The List. I’d been waiting for several months at that point, and was living at the time in a sketchy squat on upper Congress with Kosmo, Mr. Nixon and my dog, Bella. She replied that she couldn’t tell me that; she could only confirm whether or not I was on The List.

“Is there really a list?” I asked in exasperation. (She could also confirm that The List existed.)

In August of 2013 I was splitting my time between Sherwood Forest and my girlfriend Rose Elizabeth’s West End flat when I got the Golden Ticket: a housing voucher. It was issued through Maine’s Bridging Rental Assistance Program, or BRAP, which sounds like an onomatopoetic word for flatulence.

BRAP recipients pay 51 percent of their “income” on rent, and the government picks up the rest. Granted, the federal government’s own housing researchers consider spending 30 percent of one’s income on rent the upper limit of “affordability,” and after child-support payments and fines were subtracted, I didn’t know if I’d have enough dough to cover half the nut. But none of that mattered: I was finally going to be off the streets!

Well, not so fast. I was given a list of local landlords who accepted vouchers, I signed up with Avesta and another housing agency or two, and I started making calls and filling out applications. Nothing panned out, and I even lost money in the process on non-refundable application fees. I got a 30-day extension, then a second extension, followed by a third and final extension. Still nothing. I couldn’t believe it! Had I waited a year and a half for a voucher only to be unable to find a place to use it?

I was bumbling around the Preble Street Resource Center one day when I ran into Rocket, a friend of mine from the hip little Saturday morning N.A. meetings held at the Unitarian church downtown. Rocket was a woman in her late forties who’d run the streets for a long time before getting into recovery. (She’d had an encounter with Old Man Ali, long before I met him, that involved her holding his two cell phones hostage until he paid her for “services” rendered.) I told Rocket my problem.

“Hold on,” she said, then took out her phone, tapped out some digits, and the call was answered. “Yeah, Clark, it’s Rocket. … Yeah, I was wondering if you had any apartments available. I got a real good friend of mine here with — what have you got?”

“BRAP,” I said, imagining the response on the other end of the line (Eeeeew!).

“He’s got BRAP. … He’s a real nice guy. I’ve known him for a while. … Here,” she said, and handed me the phone. Clark told me to come over the next afternoon, to the corner of East Oxford and Anderson streets, in Bayside.

A stocky fellow in late middle age, Clark was wearing a baseball cap over his graying reddish hair and a bright yellow reflective vest like the ones worn by flaggers on road crews. Clark was friendly, but I was still apprehensive, waiting for him to present an application and demand another fee. He did neither. Instead, he told me to go to the East Bayside cop shop (community policing center) so they could run my rap sheet. Clark sighed and told me, apologetically, that one of the two buildings he owned on the block, 31 East Oxford St., generated more police calls than any other property in Portland. He said it’d gotten to the point where the city was fining him every time the police showed up.

Clark just wanted to make sure I wasn’t a drug dealer, a murderer or a pimp. As the cops at the shop confirmed, I was none of those things. I agreed to rent the apartment on the second floor of Clark’s other building, at 32 East Oxford, without even stepping inside.

Clark let me move in immediately, even before the required housing inspection, so I grabbed my beat-up backpack and my battered guitar, and Bella and I entered our new home. The pad was empty and grungy, like a squat where you didn’t have to duck below the windowsills, but it had heat, a bathtub, French doors and a fancy light fixture that looked to me like a chandelier. We didn’t have a bed or any blankets, but I found some old curtains in the closet, and Bella and I curled up on the floor. I slept fully dressed, as had become my habit.

The next morning I woke up in my own home for the first time since 2007, when I moved in with the Whore. I’d spent the past six years in county jail, state prison, the insane asylum, and on the streets. Now, thanks to Clark Stephens and his unorthodox rental practices, I was housed again.

The deep gratitude I felt then, and still feel today, made it all the more shocking when I read a series of articles in the daily paper this summer portraying Clark as Public Enemy No. 1, a slumlord whose negligence had caused chaos in the neighborhood and possibly even contributed to a tenant’s death.

~

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[subhed] Ups and Downs

“Coleman, I had the most absurd nightmare. I was poor and no one liked me. I lost my job, I lost my house, Penelope hated me, and it was all because of this terrible, awful negro.” 

— Louis Winthorpe III, Trading Places, 1983

~

The high number of police calls to 31 East Oxford prompted city officials to officially designate the property a “disorderly house” last spring. Clark had been compelled, by court order, to hire a management company to oversee the three-unit building, among other measures intended to keep the peace. When he failed to do so, the city condemned the building in June, effectively forcing all the tenants to move out, the Portland Press Herald reported.

It seems Clark was less than forthcoming about his connection to the properties when Herald reporter Randy Billings and a photographer encountered him in the neighborhood. Billings wrote that Clark was subsequently “identified” by the paper “using a police mug shot from a 2016 arrest in Scarborough.”

That also struck me as odd, because Clark had told me back in 2013 that he worked for the Press Herald. “Stephens, who has a criminal record dating back to 1993 for theft, unemployment fraud and cruelty to animals, did not respond to requests for comment,” Billings wrote in a June 26 article.

Cruelty to animals? When I’d asked Clark about getting a cat to keep Bella company in the apartment, he told me his girlfriend, Dee Dee, was raising a small army of unfixed cats at a property he owned on Spring Street. He waited until Dee Dee went down to Rockin’ Rickey’s Tavern, then grabbed two kittens and brought them to us at East Oxford. Mrs. Haversham and Josephine Tangerine were more than welcome to live in Clark’s building.

Yes, there were a lot of disturbances that brought cops to the block on a regular basis. I recall remarking to one officer, “Why don’t y’all just drive by every fifteen minutes? There’s always something going on.”

Rose Elizabeth came to live with us not long after Bella and I moved in. On her first day there, we looked out the front window and saw a kid on a bike ride past our apartment screaming and swinging a machete. Rose Elizabeth was aghast. My response: “I love this neighborhood!”

You see, when you’ve been on the streets for more than a few weeks, you’re willing to accept a lot of things that apartment dwellers who’ve always been plugged into the Matrix find unacceptable. Staying in the West End after living in the woods, I always felt out of place, but here, at the corner of East Oxford and Anderson, I could relate to my neighbors.

And another thing: Just being inside a home won’t change your homeless ways. I slept fully clothed for weeks after moving into Clark’s building. When I left the apartment to wander the streets and reconnect with the community I knew, I still shouldered a backpack loaded with survival gear, and I took Bella along even when I didn’t need to. I mistrusted anyone who hadn’t been “tested” by life on the street or some similar trial by fire.

In my new neighborhood, it seemed like everyone  had been burned.

Two of the first people I met on East Oxford were gentlemen who lived on the third floor of the building across the street. Dave was an older fellow and a veteran; Cap’n Kev was an animated guy in his 40s who knew Clark from way back, when Kev owned a successful auto-body repair shop. When things went south for Cap’n Kev and he had no place to live, Clark moved him into one of the closet-sized rooms at 31 East Oxford. To help earn their keep, Dave and Kev did odd jobs at my building, painting and getting the place into shape before inspectors arrived. I recall how the fellas would get edgy in the mornings until 10:30: “Beer-thirty!” Cap’n Kev called it. That’s when Clark would show up to drop off a couple Natty Daddys and some cheap smokes.

The place passed inspection every time.

I had some stable neighbors, too. Downstairs was J.B., a painter, who lived with his partner Kate, a certified nursing assistant, and their three kids. They had dibs on whatever part of the driveway wasn’t occupied by Clark’s immobile El Camino (blown engine; what a shame) and his monster truck. My upstairs neighbors were Helen and Tony Sanborn, the parents of Anthony Sanborn, whose conviction for the 1989 murder of a teenager on the waterfront is now being reviewed while he’s out on bail. They’ve lived there for three decades, and still do to this day.

When I first got my voucher, I told friends I wanted a landlord who was like a cat — which is to say, one who didn’t give a fuck. Clark gave a fuck. He was there every day, prowling around the buildings with his reflective vest on, fixing this and that. On at least two occasions while I lived there, the city cited Clark for the excessive amount of junk cluttering the long, narrow side yard at 31. Clark would barrel up the trash and sometimes I’d help him wheel it down the street a few blocks to someone’s dumpsters. But eventually, inevitably, the refuse would return, materializing as though out of thin air. The neighborhood itself generated a lot of problems. It was way more than one landlord could ever handle — like pouring water into the proverbial leaky bucket, or maintaining an aquarium full of Wal-Mart fish.

That said, Clark’s not a candidate for Landlord of the Year.

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He repeatedly promised to get the lock on the downstairs door fixed, but it never happened. The previous occupant of my apartment apparently sold quite a bit of crack. As a result, during the first two or three weeks I lived there, wild-eyed strangers would knock on the door to my apartment at all hours. A few even climbed the fire escape and tapped on the cracked window, looking for “up.”

I had to kick people out of the downstairs hallway more than a few times. I complained to Clark once about the crackheads, and about one guy in particular. Soon after that, Cap’n Kev came over to tell me that by bringing this particular crackhead to Clark’s attention, I’d pissed off an entire gang of Asian drug dealers who called themselves The X-men and occupied the second floor of 31. Kev assured me he’d smoothed things over, but warned me to be extra careful around the neighborhood.

I never had any trouble on the block. The X-men split not long after that incident, and a roofer and his family moved in on the first floor. Most of the calls to that address were the result of peeps who didn’t live there getting rowdy in the street

Clark took in more than his share of alcoholics who couldn’t hang onto housing anywhere else, but it seemed like there were always at least one or two characters across the street selling “up” or “down,” which often resulted in customers passing out or getting it on in the hallways. Clark was finally forced to fix the front door of 31. He tried to make the residents lock that door at 10 p.m. and he posted “no loitering” signs, but nothing really changed. If a frequent visitor caused too much trouble, Clark would ban them from the property, but he’d eventually either soften up, forget his prior directive, or forgive whatever transgression had inspired him to issue it in the first place.

There were beautiful times on East Oxford Street, too. At its western end, where it meets Boyd Street, there’s a community garden. With Clark’s permission and some donated seedlings left on the sidewalk by the raised beds, I was able to grow a pretty good little garden at 32 that first summer. Rose Elizabeth used to dance in the streets with the kids from the housing project nearby. On Sunday mornings, we walked a couple blocks to attend church inside the stunning Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

I’d heard a thing or two about the subsidized housing scene before I moved into 32, so I should have been prepared for what happened. The properties were like halfway houses, or minimum-security Canadian prisons. There were frequent, often unannounced inspections to ensure tenants followed the rules. I knew a bunch of people who’d lost their housing due to smoking, drinking, drugging, or the most common cause of eviction for those of us freshly off the street: too many homeless people sleeping on your floor.

I lasted two years at 32 East Oxford. While Rose Elizabeth was living there, we never had anyone over. When she left, that changed, and over time the crowd got sicker and sicker. Kosmo and CeCe camped on my floor for weeks. That’s when my spoons started disappearing, and when they turned up again they were blotched with soot. I caught the old booze bug myself and went into detox for a spell.

Clark was always good-natured, always as understanding as he could be about the noise complaints and the blatant over-occupancy. When he finally decided to evict me, he was very apologetic about it. He gave me an extra month to leave, and then told me I could stay a month longer than that if necessary. “Just don’t let Helen know!” Wink, wink!

It all worked out fine. I moved to Freeport, of all places — a town I never could’ve handled coming right off the street. When I read about Clark in the paper  this summer, it was my turn to go back to the old neighborhood to check on him, to make sure he was doing OK.

~

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[subhed] Homecoming

“What we would like to do is change the world — make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended for them to do.”

— Dorothy Day

At first I tried to call Clark, but that never worked in the past and it didn’t now.  I did reach Helen Sanborn by phone, but aside from some general reminiscing and her denials that she ever complained about me behind my back, she couldn’t shed much light on the situation.

When I got to Bayside, the old block looked much the same as it always had, but it was much quieter. The characters, Clark included, who were always making merry on the street were nowhere to be seen or heard.

The side yard at 31 was full of junk again. When I started to walk into it, a voice called out from across the street: “Get out of that alley!” It was a woman yelling from the window of my old apartment. I crossed East Oxford to talk to her, but then my old downstairs neighbor, J.B., stuck his head out of his window. We only had a moment to chat when Clark pulled up in a rental car.

He greeted me warmly, and after some pleasantries I asked him about the latest articles in the Press Herald. He’d been a central figure in two separate stories that Monday: one about the forced sale of 31 East Oxford; the other, a much more morbid tale. Headlined “Evicted without cause and forced to live in shabby room, Portland woman dies alone,” the article, by Billings, concerned 56-year-old Margaret “Maggie” Peters, a resident of 31 who’d been informed in June that she’d have to vacate the condemned property, but was found dead in her apartment on July 7, apparently of natural causes.

Three articles in three weeks, all of which cast Clark as a villain. Clark told me he’d worked for the Press Herald for 15 years, repairing press equipment, until he was sidelined by a heart attack in 2015. There was more to the story, he said, but he didn’t have time to tell it right then. We made plans to meet up in two days, but when I  returned to East Oxford at the appointed time, he was nowhere to be found.

Bollard editor Chris Busby was with me, and we poked around the properties for a few minutes, taking photos. We discovered a sleeping bag and a throw pillow among the sad detritus behind 31, and were getting ready to leave when Clark emerged from the front door of 32. “Clark!” I exclaimed, but he shushed me with a mischievous Santa grin, like he didn’t want the neighbors to know he was living there. His ball cap bore the logo of Maine Home + Design, which amused my editor considerably.

Clark sat on the front steps and amiably answered my questions.

Theft? “Well, that was back in ’93, when I took some rice and a tub of butter from Super Shaw’s the first day they opened, and I got caught!”

Animal cruelty? Brandy, Dee Dee’s dog, had kicked over her water bowl one summer day and her barking must’ve drawn a police complaint. “So the cops came and found a dog on a hot day with no water, and I got charged with animal cruelty.”

“Where’d the mug shot that ran in the paper come from, Clark?”

“Oh, I got stopped driving my [monster] truck in Scarborough and got charged for driving an unsafe vehicle.”

Clark suspects the honchos at the Herald are making an example of him because they have a history. After the heart attack a couple years ago, he returned to the paper’s South Portland printing facility just as Reade Brower was buying MaineToday Media from hedge-fund billionaire Donald Sussman. (Sussman, ironically, is a bit of a slumlord himself, having allowed numerous buildings he owned, located a few blocks away from Clark’s, to remain vacant and dumpy for several years; see “Donald Sussman’s Dumps,” Jan. 2012.) Clark lost his job after the transition to Brower’s ownership, but there’s a dispute involving union rights and how those rights were affected by the sale. Long story short: Clark and another ex-employee have filed a civil complaint against the paper with the Maine Human Rights Commission, which is investigating the matter, he said. Reporters like Billings don’t mingle much with the ink monkeys who run the presses, but Clark finds it hard to believe that upper management needed a mug shot to figure out who he was.

“When a lawsuit like this happens against a company like this, it spreads like wildfire, and everybody in the company knows who it is,” Clark said. “They gotta be pissed at me.”

In fairness to the Herald, a dead body found in a condemned building is front-page news, and the city’s apparently unprecedented legal action to force Clark to sell 31 East Oxford also warrants coverage. Anyway, Clark isn’t too bothered to lose that property. He reasons that its sale and eventual improvement under new ownership will increase the value of 32, which is already rising as investors snatch up the last cheap multi-family buildings on the peninsula, most of which are in this long-blighted neighborhood.

A car pulled into the driveway and Clark had to attend to business, but before we parted he remarked on Brower’s latest acquisition. “Did  you hear they’re buying the Sun Journal, too?  And I was thinking about getting my [employment dispute] story in there!”

‘Don’t worry,” Busby quipped. “They’ll never buy The Bollard.”

~

“Gimme Shelter: 31/32 East Oxford Street [First Draft]

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“Gimme Shelter.” – Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

~

The List. The Housing List. I remember calling Housing at Shalom House one cold and rainy day, and asking the woman who answered if she could tell me where I was on the List. She replied that she couldn’t tell me where I was on the List, only if I was or wasn’t on the List.

“Is there really a list?” I asked in frustration. It was late fall of 2012 and Mr. Nixon, Kosmo, Bella (my dog) and I were occupying a pretty sketchy squat right on upper Congress. I’d become officially, no-more-avenues homeless in the spring of that year, eventually spending a night or two at the Oxford Street Shelter to verify my homelessness and get me on the List. From there I went to spending nights on the floor at Old Man Ali’s, or several abandoned buildings around town (squats), or on the ground in a good bag in the DMZ across from the Circle K down on commercial. After staying with Captain Palmer and then Fazil on the worst winter nights, we ended up camping on the shore of the Fore River and the surrounding woods, before the area’s conquest and development by Phineas and the Norweigens.

(Is that a band?)

By August of 2013 I was living between the camps on the Fore River and Rose Elizabeth’s place in the West End. That’s when I finally received what I had come to believe of as the “Golden Ticket,” the Brass Ring of the Homeless Nation, something that I’d waited a year and a half for: a housing voucher. B.R.A.P. (the Bridging Rental Assistance Program.) to be more specific. With B.R.A.P. you pay 51% of your income towards rent, with housing picking up the rest. After child support and fines I wasn’t sure if I’d have 51% of my principal left, but that didn’t matter. I was gonna be off the streets.

I assumed that the voucher was the goal, that after the voucher, doors to prospective homes would just swing open in my direction; it wasn’t so. I was given a list of landlords who accepted housing, signed up with AVESTA and another agency or two, made the calls and even (painfully) lost a couple of application fees. I couldn’t find a place. I had a month to find a place, followed by one, two then a final thirty-day extension.. still, nothing. I couldn’t believe it – was it possible that, after waiting all this time for a voucher that I wouldn’t be able to find a place to use it?

I was bumbling around the PRC one day, when I ran into a friend of mine from the hip little Saturday Morning N.A. meeting at the Unitarian, “Rocket.” Rocket was a woman in her late forties, and she’d run the streets for a long time before getting into recovery. She’d even had an encounter with Old Man Ali, long before I met him, where she held his two cell phones hostage until he paid her for “services.” I told Rocket my problem, and with a “hold on.” she got on her phone, tapped out the digits, and was apparently answered.

“Yeah, Clark, it’s Rocket… yeah, I was wondering if you had any apartments available. I got a real good friend of mine here with.. what have you got?”

“B.R.A.P.”

“He’s got B.R.A.P… he’s a real nice guy; I’ve known him for a while.. here.” and she handed the phone to me. This fellow, “Clark,” on the other end of the phone told me to come over the next afternoon, to the corner of Oxford and Anderson.

I met up with Clark the next day, without knowing (or caring) where the actual apartment was. Clark was a big, red-headed stocky fellow, baseball cap and a reflective vest, like the one’s worn by flaggers. Despite Clark’s friendly nature, I was still apprehensive, waiting for the application that would sooner or later appear, with or without a fee. But there would be no application. Instead, Clark told me to go down to the East Bayside cop shop, then on Boyd street, to have my sheet run. With a sigh, Clark told me, apologetically, that the building across from 32: 31, also his, was the most cop-called-on building in Portland, and that it had gotten to the point where they were fining him everytime they had to show up.

Clark just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t a drug dealer, a murderer, or a pimp, and, it turned out that I wasn’t. I went down to the cop shop where they were more that familiar with Clark, ran my record and gave me the thumbs up. I agreed to rent the apartment without even stepping foot in it. Clark let me move in immediately, even before the housing inspection, and so Bella and I, my battered guitar and my equally battered backpack, moved in. It was on the second floor, up past the red door, and I thought that it was perfect, a palace – bathtub, french-doors and a chandelier. It was like a squat where you didn’t have to hide below window level and there was heat. We didn’t have any blankets, but Bella and I found some old curtains in the closet, and curled up on the floor, me dressed in my clothes, per normal.

I had a home. When was the last time I’d had my own home? Wow.. um.. that would have been that room at the Lawrence House, back in 2007, before I moved in with the Whore. So six years later, past jail and prison and AMHI and the street, I found myself housed again, and, I had Clark Stevens and his unorthodox method of screening tenants to thank for it.

It was with a bit of a shock that I saw a classic Hollywood mugshot of Clark on the cover of the June 26 PPH, and Randy Billing’s accompanying article entitled, “Portland condemns apartment building because of frequent police visits.

“Wow – that’s my old place!” I said to whoever was nearest to me at the time, “And my old landlord!” But as I read it, there was just too much that didn’t make sense.

The first thing to make me say, “hmm..” was “A man later identified as Stephens using a police mug shot from a 2016 arrest..” Why would the Portland Press Herald have trouble identifying Clark? When I first moved in, he worked for them! I wasn’t sure how long he’d been there, but I knew it had been a few years. Man, you think they would have done a background on Clark, and, well, since he worked there anyway, surely there were some company picnic shots they could have used.

Stellar reporting!

And, of course, it’s not as though Clark was some sinister H.H. Holmes type, hiding an evil enterprise behind a mask of respectability, and it’s not as though Clark’s buildings at Oxford and Anderson suddenly went down hill. No, as I wrote a minute ago, the first thing that Clark did was to have me go to the cop shop to have my record checked out; the cops knew. I remember saying to a policeman visiting us one day: “why don’t ya’ll just drive by every fifteen minutes. There’s always something going on.” In the same way, it wasn’t as though these buildings were in fantastic shape in years previous, and suddenly got struck with a wave of bad plumbing and bedbugs. Just as housing passed my apartment for inspection, they passed the apartments and S.R.Os (Single Room Occupancy) across the street.

This was no cleverly guarded secret, no sudden discovery of wrongdoing! Hah!

Everybody knew. There were just so many parties involved that any sense of responsibility got diffused, and Clark did fill a need: he was housing those of us who couldn’t seem to be housed elsewhere.

31b.frontdoor

~

There’s a lake of stew, and of whiskey too.

You can paddle all around it in a big canoe, in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.”

Harry McClintock, circa 1890

~

By the time I moved into 32 Oxford, I’d heard a thing or two about places run by outfits like Avesta. It wasn’t, you see, completely like it is when someone still plugged into the matrix gets an apartment. When you’ve been on the streets for a while, you’re willing to agree to lots of things that your average apartment seeker would have no part of. These places, I’d heard, were more like half-way houses, or minimum security Canadian prisons – security at the door (not just to protect you, either), constant checks to make sure you’re complying with the rules, etc. I knew a bunch of people who’d failed the Avesta course, usually because of smoking, drinking, or the most common cause of eviction for those of us just off the street: too many homeless sleeping on your floor.

When I first got my voucher I remember telling someone that I wanted a landlord who was like a cat: who just didn’t give a fuck. Clark gave a fuck, he was there everyday, prowling between buildings with his reflective vest on, fixing this and that. There were just too many holes in the dike for anyone to deal with at once, including the neighborhood itself. It was digging the proverbial hole in the sand, or maintaining an aquarium filled with Wal-Mart fish.

Rose Elizabeth had given up a pretty sweet flat in the West End to move in with me at East Oxford and Anderson, but she’s an adventurer. On the day she moved in, looking out the window we saw a young kid riding past our apartment, screaming and swinging a machete. As Rose Elizabeth stared aghast, I clearly remember saying, “I love this neighborhood!” I’d lived with her at the West End place, and I felt absolutely out of place, and I was, coming straight from the woods. Here on Oxford and Anderson, I could relate, or, maybe it was that I just didn’t stick out as much.

When you take a homeless person and put him in a home, there’s a period when what you have is a homeless person with a home. Just recently Rose reminded me of how, when I first moved in, I would go to be with my clothes on, just as though I was on someone else’s floor. When I left the apartment to wander back to the streets and the community that I knew, I still carried an overloaded back-pack with me for a while, still took the dog with me even when I didn’t need too. I still mistrusted anyone who hadn’t “been tested,” by the street or some similar trial by fire. In my new neighborhood, it seemed that everyone had been in the fire.

Two of the first people that I met from the neighborhood were gentlemen who lived on the third floor of the building across the street, Dave (an older fellow and a veteran,) and Cap’n Kev, and animated fellow in his forties. Kevin had known Clark from way back, back when he had his own successful autobody repair business. When things went south for Cap’n Kev, and he had no other place to go, Clark moved him into one of the closet sized rooms on 31`East Oxford. As a way to help pay for their keep across the street, Dave and Kev hung out at my new apartment, painting and getting the place ready for inspection. I remember the boys getting edgy every mid-morning – 10:30am was “Beer-thirty!” Capn Kev declared. It was when Clark was supposed to come by and drop each of them off a couple of Natty-Daddys and some cheap smokes.

The place passed inspection.

I had good neighbors. Some guy upstairs on the other side, Clark explained one day, was growing a mad crop of weed in his apartment; he was a blogger too. Downstairs was J.B., a painter and Kate, a CNA and their three kids. They controlled whatever part of the driveway wasn’t occupied by Clark’s El Camino (blown engine, what a shame) and his monstor truck. Upstairs lived Helen and Tony Sanborn, who’d lived there for twenty years and still do.

Clark promised repeatedly to get the lock on the downstairs door fixed, but it never happened, and apparently the previous occupant had sold quite a bit of crack. As a result, for the first two or three weeks I had wild eyed strangers coming to the door at all hours, even climbing up the fire escape tapping on the cracked window, looking for up. For the extent of my stay I sometimes had to kick people out of the downstairs hallway. I complained to Clark once about the crackheads and one guy in particular. Later on, Cap’n Kev came to my door, telling me that, by pointing this one crackhead out to Clark, I had pissed off this gang of Asian drug dealers, calling themselves “the X-men” occupying the second floor of 31 East Oxford. Kevin assured me that he had smoothed things over, calmed things down, but warned me to be careful around the neighborhood.

But, I never had any trouble in the neighborhood. Whoever was on the second floor was soon gone, and a roofer and his family moved onto the first. If there was any trouble from across the street where the cops were called, it always seemed to be responses to peeps getting loud and rowdy on the street. Clark took in his share of alcoholics who couldn’t hang onto housing anywhere else, (Geoff actually got on Naltrexone and quit) but there was always at least one or two characters selling up or down; this seemed to cause sketchy strangers to pass out or get down in the hallways of 31.

Eventually Clark was forced to fix the front door of 31, tried to make the residents lock it up at 10pm, put “no loitering” signs up, but none of that never really worked. If a recurring guest caused too much trouble, Clark would ban them from the property, but he’d eventually soften up, forget his previous directive or forgive whatever transgression.

The apartments always passed inspection, but the property didn’t. A couple of times while I lived there, the City would ticket Clark for having too much trash on the side of the house at 31. Clark would barrel up trash and recyclables, and sometimes I’d help him wheel it down the street to someone else’s dumpsters blocks away. A couple of times, it seemed, the property started cleaning up, but, where ever it came from, the clutter would always return.

But things could be beautiful too. At the end of East Oxford, at Boyd street is the Bayside public garden, and with Clark’s permission and donated seedlings left on the concrete, I was able to grow a pretty good garden there at 32 East Oxford. I continued to go to the soupkitchen, still ran peer-processing groups at PRC and around town; we went to church together on sundays up at Cathedral. When I asked Clark about getting a cat to hang out with Bella, it turned out that Clark’s girlfriend, Dee Dee was apparently raising a nation of unfixed cats down at his Spring Street development. Clark waited until Dee Dee was at Ricky’s and he ended up grabbing two kittens for Bella, Mrs. Haversham and Josephine Tangerine. And Rose Elizabeth danced with the children from the projects, kitty-corner across the street.

31d.alley.2

~

I had the most absurd nightmare. I was poor and no one liked me.

– Louis Winthorpe III in ‘Trading Places’ (1983)

~

I went back to my old neighborhood last week, looking for Clark. I’d tried to phone him, but that had never worked in the past and it didn’t now. I had managed to get in touch with Helen Sanborn from upstairs by phone, but aside from some general reminiscing and denying that she ever complained about me behind my back, I couldn’t really get any good neighborhood observations, and Helen and Tony have lived in that spot for the past thirty.

I walked down Anderson and looked around – things looked pretty much the same, maybe some new work here and there. But there was no one around. Back when I lived on 32 East Oxford, Clark and his merry men were a pretty constant, dynamic presence on the sidewalks and in the street. Now there was no one. I knocked on my downstairs neighbors door, and her charming mother answered the door. My neighbor was at work, and the cryptkeeper had no comment. I went across the street to 31, started to go down the alley (still crowded with junk) and a voice from across the street warned me, “Get out of that alley!” Turning about I saw that it was a woman, calling from across the street, from the window of my old apartment. I walked across the street to talk to her, only to have my other downstairs neighbor, J.B. stick his head out of the window in greeting. We only had a moment to talk when Clark pulled up in his rental car.

He greeted me warmly, and I immediately brought up the article that had been printed in the Portland Press Herald. He told me that he’d worked at the PPH for fifteen years, fixing machines, and now he was suing the PPH for some reason that he tried to explain, but I didn’t quite understand. Irregardless, his lawsuit against the Press Herald, Clark was certain, was the motivation for the paper going after him “so hard.” Front page, horrible face shot, nasty coverage. I don’t know; the whole think just smelled hinky. I asked him if he was staying down at his other place on Spring street (I’d even been told once that he had a place on the Prom). No. Smiling he pointed to the far fire escape and an open window at it’s top. “I’m staying there right now. That’s how I get in.” We made plans to meet the day after next, on Thursday.

Again, when I hit the neighborhood two days later, there was no sign of Clark. I’d spoken to one of the remaining occupants of 31, a short, bearded sipper named “Buck,” who’s been there for a while. He told me that the only occupants remaining are himself, and Clark’s girlfriend, Dee Dee. He had a few more weeks to find a place, although he figured that Clark would somehow take care of Dee Dee.

I walked around, took some pictures, waited. After a while, staking out Clark and talking to some of the neighborhood peeps (one who assured me that the women in my old apartment on second was Clark’s new girlfriend, another that months before the City took action there was a lot of coke coming out of 31) I texted Chris (back at the Bollard,) who’d expressed some interest in meeting Clark the night before. Despite Clark’s non-appearance, he decided to cruise by and scope the place out himself. Once he showed up, we walked around, took a few more pictures and were about to wrap it up, when from behind the red door of 32 appeared Clark.

After introductions I said: “First, Clark, you’ve gotta let us get a better picture of you.”

Clark happily agreed, posing on the front steps (Chris getting a kick out of his “Hootersr” hat.”Love it.”) and Clark dove in, without prompting into his take on the situation. Clark had worked for the PPH for fifteen years, maintaining the machines. About a year and a half ago he had a heart attack., and around the same time the Portland Press Herald, then owned by Donald Sussman, was sold to Reid Browner. The workers were told that some of them would go with the new outfit and others would be laid off; Clark was laid off. Clark feels that the sale of the paper wasn’t a “true asset sale” for several reasons, including the fact that Sussman continued to have “something to do with payroll” for the new outfit, and that there was no new union contract. If it’s a “true asset sale,” in which it’s employers would effectively be dealing with a completely new company then there would be new contracts to accompany the sale. There wasn’t on-going contracts were amended. If it’s not a “true asset sale” and therefore the same old company, then Clark, due to his seniority would have had “bumpin’ rights” and wouldn’t have been terminated.

After talking to Greg Kasich one day in Monument Square, Clark and another worker took the case to the Maine Civil Rights Commission. It’s an ongoing case.

“They gotta be pissed at me.” Clark said. I asked again about the reporting of him in the article. He worked there for fifteen years; didn’t they know him? Didn’t he ever go on company picnics?

“Yeah, we had company picnics, but I was down at the South Portland plant, and a lot of the reporters were up in Portland. So a lot of the reporters didn’t really know us maintenance people. But, when a lawsuit like this happens against a company like this, it spreads like wildfire, and everybody in the company knows who it is. “

“I mean,” he continued, ” why put that on the front page? In that first article with the mug shot they mention a theft and animal cruelty (that’s all they had on me.) Well, the theft was back in ’93, when I took some rice and a tub of butter from Super Shaws the first day they opened and I got caught! That animal cruelty charge, that was “Brandy” and she was tied outside of Dee Dee’s house, out at shalom house, and it kicked over the water. So the cops came and found a dog on a hot day with no water, and I got charged with animal cruelty.”

“Where’d the mugshot come from, Clark?”

“Oh, I got stopped driving my (monster) truck in Scarborough and got charged for driving an unsafe vehicle.”

Clark’s going to sell 31, but keep thirty two. And he’s not too upset about it. He claims that in the last six months the price of multi-family properties has gone up and he’s looking to do well in the sale.

It’s a weird case – by selling 31, the surrounding property values will probably increase further, and will by infection increase the value of 31.

“The thing about this building is, because of disorderly complaints, if you get more that three disorderly complaints in a month then they”ll nail you, and they got three or four months on me. But, they tried to get us on code issues too.” Clark said that back in March Chuck Pigoney, the City Inspector came through, along with Sooner (community policing), some housing people and a few others According to Clark, they did a walk through of the house and Pigoney declared that there were no code issues with the house, that the house was fine. He further said that “If any of you have any further issues with Mr. Stevens they are non-code related.”

A car pulled up and Clark said his goodbyes, adding, “Did you hear they’re buying the Sun-Journal, too! And I was thinking about getting my story in there!”

“They’ll never buy the Bollard.” smiled Chris.

31g.frontdoor.citynotice

~

I lasted two years at 32 East Oxford. While Rose Elizabeth was living there, we never let anyone over. Once she left, that changed, and over time the crowd got sicker and sicker, and maybe I did right along with them. I finally submitted the Sherwood piece, when it was just me and my intern, Maggie. By the time I did the “Opiatopia” article, I was a day out of detox, after a few weeks with Kosmo and CeCe camping on my floor. At some point during the year, my spoons began disappearing, and when they did show up again they were blotched with soot.

Clark was always good, always as understanding as he could be about the noise complaints, or the obvious over-occupancy. When he finally did decide to evict me, he was very apologetic about it, gave me an extra month, and in the end told me that I could stay even a month longer. “Just don’t let Helen know!” Wink, wink!

It worked out. I moved on to Freeport, something I never could have done fresh from the street, and here we are.

Thanks for getting us off of the street Clark. Thanks.

31e.sleepingbag

~

“What we would like to do is change the world-make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended for them to do.”
– Dorothy Day

~

The Published Edit: “Sheeps Head Soup.”

Scope out the published edit in the Bollard and compare it to the first draft posted  in a blog or two ago.

http://thebollard.com/2017/07/04/sheeps-head-soup/

Love and coffee,

Rage

My former residence in East Bayside, Portland, Maine.

I lived at 32 East Oxford, Clark’s building right across the street from the one in the article.  And to think I got evicted.  I’ll definitely have to bang something out about this, Clark.

LOCAL & STATE

Posted Yesterday at 4:00 AM
Updated June 26

Portland condemns apartment building because of frequent police visits

It’s the first time the city has taken such an extreme measure to get a landlord to address issues under its disorderly houses ordinance.

The multifamily home at 31 East Oxford St. in Portland's East Bayside neighborhood has been deemed a
The multifamily home at 31 East Oxford St. in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood has been deemed a “disorderly” house by the city and tenants have been evicted because of alleged inaction by the property’s landlord, Clark Stephens.

 

Portland officials have condemned an apartment building in East Bayside because of frequent police visits, forcing the landlord to evict all of his tenants until he fulfills his court-ordered obligations to tighten up management of the property.

It’s the first time the city has taken such an extreme measure to get a landlord to address issues under its disorderly houses ordinance – a designation that’s given to a building based on the number of police visits in a 30-day period.

While other apartment buildings have been deemed disorderly, the vast majority of landlords work with the city to address issues, said Richard Bianculli Jr., Portland’s Neighborhood Prosecutor. The landlord in this case is well known to city officials and has defied the order, officials said.

“It’s just been kind of a nightmare,” Bianculli said. “It’s really a safety issue. There’s too many calls for service and too many random things going on that are impacting people in that neighborhood.”

The city posted the three-family unit at 31 East Oxford St. against occupancy on May 31, after the building owner and landlord, Clark Stephens, who owns three apartment buildings totaling 11 units in Portland, allegedly failed to follow through on an April consent agreement to turn over management of the property to a professional firm. He was also ordered to evict the current tenants, perform background checks on any new tenants and maintain the property so it complies with the city codes, among other things.

1217005_424457-ClarkStephens_Big-244x300

Clark Stephens

After the posting, tenants had until June 14 to leave, but Pine Tree Legal Assistance, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to low-income people, received a temporary restraining order against the city to prevent the evictions of three tenants until a court hearing next month.

Attorney Katie McGovern said the restraining orders are intended to give her three clients more time to find another apartment, which is becoming increasingly difficult for low-income tenants in Portland. Although the living conditions in the building are poor, McGovern said her clients would rather remain there temporarily than become homeless.

“We agree the housing should be made safe and the landlord should be held accountable,” McGovern said. “But we disagree the eviction of these vulnerable low-income people is the answer.”

Additional court hearings are expected in early July.

The situation underscores the difficulty city officials and tenants face in trying to deal with an unresponsive landlord in a rental market where vacancy rates are low, rents are rising and low-income housing is growing more scarce.

Stephens also owns 32-34 East Oxford St. Both properties are well-known to police and city inspectors, who have responded to complaints about matters ranging from life safety and excess trash buildup to basic livability issues, including bedbugs, a lack of heat and water, and a leaky roof. Stephens also owns 198 Spring St. in the city’s West End.

Stephens, who has a criminal record dating back to 1993 for theft, unemployment fraud and cruelty to animals, did not respond to requests for comment.

A man later identified as Stephens using a police mug shot from a 2016 arrest in Scarborough approached a reporter and photographer last week on East Oxford Street and began asking questions about who alerted the newspaper about problems at the building, asking whether it was Pine Tree Legal or the city.

Stephens did not identify himself, other than to say he lives in the West End. He said he knew nothing about the 31 East Oxford St. building, nor the landlord, before entering 32-34 East Oxford St., which is listed as his official address in court records.

One of the tenants caught in the middle of the dispute over the disorderly house is Margaret Peters, 55, who has a housing voucher through Shalom House, a nonprofit that works with people with mental illness. Peters also was one of the tenants who was kicked out of an apartment complex at 65 Grant St. last year so a different landlord could renovate the property.

Peters has struggled with homelessness in the past and said she decided to rent a room on the third floor of 31 East Oxford St. because it was her only option. For the last year, she said she has had to deal with random people drinking, doing drugs and fighting in the hallways of the apartment building.

Portland officials have condemned an apartment building in East Bayside because of frequent police visits, forcing the landlord to evict all of his tenants until he fulfills his court-ordered obligations to tighten up management of the property.

One of the tenants caught in the middle of the dispute over the disorderly house is Margaret Peters, 55, who has a housing voucher through Shalom House, a nonprofit that works with people with mental illness. Peters also was one of the tenants who was kicked out of an apartment complex at 65 Grant St. last year so a different landlord could renovate the property.

Peters has struggled with homelessness in the past and said she decided to rent a room on the third floor of 31 East Oxford St. because it was her only option. For the last year, she said she has had to deal with random people drinking, doing drugs and fighting in the hallways of the apartment building.

“It is nasty. Everything is falling apart. But we had no other place to go,” Peters said of herself and her boyfriend.

Stephens tried to evict Peters and other tenants as required by the court order, but McGovern said she defeated those eviction notices, known as Forcible Entry and Detainer, in court. However, Stephens allegedly continued to try to collect rent from tenants even after he turned over management of his property to Mainely Property Management, prompting the company to part ways with Stephens.

“Our company has experienced an unusual amount of difficulty with the transition to management,” the company said in a letter to residents. “From the start, management has struggled to obtain accurate records, communicate with tenants, and collect rents. With so many factual discrepancies and lack of accurate financial records, we have decided to terminate this contract (effective) immediately.”

People who live and visit friends in the neighborhood say they are glad that the city is taking action.

 

Bob Taylor has lived nearby on Anderson Street for 11 years. The 59-year-old said the apartment building is a magnet for troublemakers, especially drug dealers and people looking for drugs. He said he’s witnessed people whistling in the neighborhood to call out the dealers and dealers have hung tennis shoes on the telephone lines – a sign, he said, that drugs are available. One time, he witnessed someone running up Anderson Street with a firearm, he said.

“That’s where they hang out at night and sell it,” Taylor said. “It’s a crack station. It’s a one-day pit stop.”

Corinne Tompkins said she visits her friend in the neighborhood regularly. From his apartment window last year, the 29-year-old said she saw a “straight-up gang war” in the street, adding that it was “guns versus two-by-fours.” She said there always seems to be new people hanging around the building.

“This is a nutty intersection,” Tompkins said of East Oxford and Anderson streets. “I don’t like being around here alone.”

Portland first adopted its disorderly housing ordinance back in 1998, but it has been amended over the years, most recently in 2011. It classifies a building with five or fewer apartments as a disorderly house if police have responded to at least three substantiated calls for service for general disturbances or any incident that involves an arrest or suspicion of criminal activity within a 30-day period. That threshold increases to four service calls for buildings with six to 10 units and five calls for 11 units or more.

A May 11 letter from the city to Stephens outlines four calls for service in April, including people refusing to leave, drug possession and suspicious activity, at 31 East Oxford St. and seven calls for service at 32 East Oxford St.

City officials were not able to provide the Portland Press Herald with a complete list of service calls to all of his properties, but Bianculli said that one – if not both – of Stephens’ East Bayside properties have been designated as a disorderly house since last August. City officials say they typically avoid condemning buildings so that innocent tenants don’t get evicted.

“Not only does it not get this far, but we don’t normally give people so many chances before we pursue a court action,” he said. “It’s at a point where I just don’t know what else to do.”

McGovern, the attorney that represents low-income tenants, believes the city’s ordinance is fundamentally flawed and the city is too quick to pressure landlords to evict tenants. She noted that the ordinance gives the landlord the right to appeal a disorderly designation, but not tenants, which she contends is a constitutional violation.

“The way the city’s disorderly process is set up there is no opportunity for the tenant to be heard, which we think is a deprivation of rights,” she said. “We think the tenants have the right to be heard in that process.”

However, Bianculli pushed back against that notion, noting that the situation on East Oxford Street is unprecedented, and the evictions were needed to protect the tenants.

“We’ve never had someone sign (a) consent decree and court order and then turn around and violate the court order the next week,” he said. “We only (condemned the building) because if something happens to one of these tenants, that’s going to be the news story.”

 

Immigration and the Solution to Homelessness ad mentum Rage

Hey, true believers.

Here’s my whole groove on immigration and homelessness.  I don’t think they’ll publish this one, so you know it’s good!

~

Dude, I was thinking. If we showed up at the Somalian Embassy, wanting political asylum from the United States, would they bring us over there, give us jobs, and apartments and like, a free Yugo?”

-Kosmo Kabir Geiger, Portland Street Person

When I was on the streets of Portland, Maine just a few years back, I remember hanging out by Monument Square during a pro-immigrant rally. At the time I was being graciously allowed to spend my nights on the floor of a fellow I’d only met recently, an elderly Iraqi Kurd who, amidst all of the other “Alis” in his Shi’ite circle went by the moniker: “Old Man Ali.” He stood with me that day, on his way back from St. Vincent’s Soup Kitchen with bread to feed the birds further down at the then-unsaved Congress Square Park. I remember Old Man Ali commenting about the protest: “Refugee, refugee! If things were so bad for us, Robin, I’d be sleeping on your floor!”

God bless Old Man Ali who took me in when “friends” who’d known me much longer had not; bless Fazil, as well, who took me in after Old Man Ali had taken off to be with his kids in Atlanta. They welcomed me, fed me, brought me to interesting places and introduced me to more than one fascinating culture. Eventually they got used to Bella, my dog, and invited her in as well, gave us shelter during a nasty winter which was spent otherwise outdoors.

Yet, I did wonder, as the street person born here inevitably does: “If we can get people from so far away housed and serviced and employed relatively quickly, why can’t we do the same for the native homeless?” Or even closer to the bone, the homeless person also asks, “Shouldn’t we be taking care of our own before we offer to care for others?”

We all, irregardless of our station in life, seem to be looking for someone or something to blame for our situation, and usually it’s just one thing or one person. If only that one person (the homeless often cite LePage) or that one thing (the homeless often cite immigration) weren’t or wasn’t there, then everything would be kittens whiskers and rose petals. Immigration and immigrants are natural targets for the poor and the homeless for the most obvious reasons – they see people who are not-from-here (people who are different) getting housing while they remain on the streets, getting jobs (at the shelter, for example) while they remain jobless. They see these folks receiving benefits, Mainecare, etc., while they don’t or can’t qualify.

I don’t blame the refugee, the immigrant for the lack of equal care denied the native born homeless; hell, these are the kind people who cared for me in the winter when my own people wouldn’t. Most of these folks come from devastating situations and would be fools not to utilize any tools which could bring them to a better world, and in the United States the tools have been there (and hopefully, will continue to be there.) Unfortunately, for the homeless, the same tools are there, they’re just harder to spot. Or earn.

Why?

Well, if there’s anyone less popular than immigrants it would be prisoners, the poor, the homeless. If there’s anyone with a lighter lobbying arm, it would be the same.

(Here’s a tip from Papa Rage: If you’re homeless, you’re on a priority level two for housing. Go spend two days in Spring Harbor (thoughts of suicide) and as someone recently discharged from a facility, you’ll be at level one. That one was for free.)

Isn’t it nonsense?

Not, as many of you would say, that immigrants are treated so well, but that our own homeless are not. I believe in thinking globally and acting locally, and I believe that if we can provide so much effective, immediate assistance to our immigrant population, then we can provide the same assistance to the native homeless, and probably (our readers from the landed gentry will be happy to hear) save society money.

I mean, when immigrants arrive, they don’t go straight to the street. Why can’t we house our homeless in the same manner, before they’ve already been out there for three or more years?

I’m not going to get into the discussion of why the homeless should be housed first and other assistance rendered secondly. Google “housing first” and scan the concept. I will ask some of those nasty questions that the homeless ask about the immigrant situation, and maybe you do too. Can you answer them?

  1. There seem to be a lot of places on the globe between where the immigrants are coming from and Portland, Maine. I mean, without crossing the Atlantic. Why Maine?

  1. Why would you take peeps from a warm climate and bring them to a cold, northern place like Maine, when the United States is filthy with much warmer spots?

  1. Why would you bring immigrants into a state with such a high cost of living?

  1. Why would you bring immigrants into a city with a shortage of housing?

  1. Why would you bring immigrants to a city that can’t even take care of it’s own? A city with a population they’ve yet to house, to integrate to employ?

  1. Why aren’t they moving immigrants into Kennebunkport? (No, we don’t usually ask that one. I just threw it in.)

Well, my friends, that would be a larger article and demand a bit of investigation, but I’m sure that no matter how these issues are handled behind the scenes, there’s probably just one reason:

the Yen.

Money. Mammon. Lucre. Coin. Ducats. Cash. Yes. Catholic Charities and other placement agencies are making money off of all of this immigrant action and I’m sure there’s money to be made. Conversely, I’m sure that there’s hardly any coin to be made at all in helping out the homeless.

Recently a scary situation has developed and continues to, for our peeps seeking asylum in this country. Portland has pledged to continue to support our blossoming immigrant community and rightly so. Recently I read in the PPH that the City was establishing a special department to assist recent immigrants in finding employment, education, community integration.

I totally support that, but, why not establish one to assist the native homeless population in the same manner?

I mean, really, Mayor Strimling, and honored members of the Council? Why not?

~

On Thursday, February 16, 2017 5:44 AM, The Bollard <editor@thebollard.com> wrote:
Hi, Rage. Sorry I haven’t been able to meet — weather is playing hell with my ability to yadda, yadda, yadda,  or, some days, even get out of the driveway. Looks like another shit-show today. 

Thanks for sending this immigrant piece. I’m gonna pass on it. It asks more questions than it answers. There are answers, but it’d take a lot of research. I’ll be in touch toward the end of the month, by which time I hope to have some scratch. Thanks for your patience and apologies for the delay.

Best,
C

“Notes from a cold peninsula

http://thebollard.com/2017/02/07/notes-from-a-cold-peninsula/

Scope out my latest offering in the Bollard, a refined-for-publication version of “the Cold.”

Love and rockets,

Rage!

dscn1090