IN THE SHADOWS 

Couch Wars

There's not much you can do when a homeless guy starts regularly sleeping (and occasionally jerking off) on the couch on your front porch. Except maybe get rid of the couch.

That's the lesson learned recently by five housemates on SE 47th, between Hawthorne and Division. Their education began Saturday evening, May 24, when a disheveled-looking guy with shoulder-length dreadlocks, smelling of piss, came walking past.

"He came up to us on the couch on our front porch and asked if we had a cigarette," says housemate Josh Kalberg. "I told him we'd just thrown out the ashtray, so he said would we mind if he dug through our trash to find one, and just went right ahead and did it."

After rooting through the amused housemates' trash, the man disappeared, but returned that night to sleep on the couch. The next day, the housemates called the cops, but were told they would have to catch the man in the act, before the cops could do anything about his behavior. That night, sure enough, he was back, so the housemates dialed 911. A cop arrived and walked the man to the end of the block. Within 10 minutes, he was back on the couch, and back again the next night.

By Tuesday, the housemates were no longer amused.

"I could hear him snoring three houses down the street," says Liz Bartholomew, another housemate who was returning to the house late that night, pushing her bike up the sidewalk. "He was wearing ripped jeans—basically ass-less chaps, because he wasn't wearing any underwear," Bartholomew continues.

"It was pretty frightening. I'm not an aggressive person at all, but I was out there threatening him with my U-lock, trying to get him to leave."

Bartholomew dialed 911 again, but the dispatcher wasn't quite so patient this time. Meanwhile, the man was making himself extremely comfortable on the couch outside.

"He was masturbating on our couch, and the dispatcher was getting short with me, saying I needed to call the non-emergency line about this," Bartholomew says.

Eventually a cop came, after the housemates had called the cops four times, and they say he was arrested for criminal trespass in the second degree.

"They told us they knew who he was," says another housemate, Jaymee Cuti. "That he had some mental problems, that he was a creature of habit, and that he'd probably be back in the morning."

The next morning, the man was indeed back, to take a healthy shit in the housemates' neighbor's front yard.

"I feel like there's very little the cops could do," says Cuti. "If he doesn't respond to repeated arrests, what is he going to respond to?

"I want to be compassionate," Cuti continues. "But I feel like if I'm complacent I'm complicit. I feel like he needs a caseworker, and admittance to a residential facility."

Cuti says she even thought about turning on the water hose to deter the man from sleeping, but that it seemed cruel. In the end, the housemates removed the couch last Wednesday, June 4.

"It's just a symptom of the root of the problem not being fixed," says another housemate, Charlotte Engler. "It seems like there should be help for crazy people. They need to be helped, not just removed."

Fortunately for the housemates, the man started sleeping last Wednesday night on the porch of Michael Rude's house, next door. His porch doesn't have a couch.

"It's actually kind of ironic, because we just got rid of it last week," says Rude.

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