The sidewalk bustles with activity on Northwest Couch Street near Broadway Street. Neighbors give out free reading glasses from a large box on the ground. Another box holds paperback books, a temporary free library for anyone to use.
People gather around an open garage door. Electric assist tricycles buzz about – dropping loads into a nearby dumpster and before returning to their home base inside the center.
The space is a new warehouse and reuse hub for Ground Score Association, a peer-led program of the nonprofit organization Trash for Peace. Here, the organization brings together informal waste collectors, repair technicians and local hauling companies Junk It Junk Removal and Frog and Toad Hauling.
“This initiative is a shining example of the positive changes that can be achieved when environmental sustainability and community engagement are prioritized. By promoting reuse and repair, the program contributes to reducing waste and creating a more sustainable future for our city,” said Metro Councilor Mary Nolan, whose district covers downtown Portland.
“It not only provides employment opportunities but also empowers individuals to develop new skills and actively participate in the circular economy. This program aligns with our vision for a thriving, inclusive, and environmentally conscious community, and I am proud to endorse its efforts.”
Creating and supporting community
Laura Kutner Tokarski, executive director of Trash for Peace said the community space is more than just a place for collection and reuse.
“It is an example of how people from all walks of life can come together to support each other, lift each other up through community, safe space, and job opportunities, and prove that reuse, repair, and the circular economy are not just buzzwords, but investments that are good for our planet, business, and most importantly, people” Tokarski said.
The warehouse lease is partially supported through cleanup funding from the State of Oregon distributed by Metro. Staff from Metro toured the site last month.
Trash for Peace’s Ground Score Association offers low-barrier job opportunities for people who collect discarded materials for a living. It provides income for people experiencing homelessness, who may be unbanked, without identification or dealing with other barriers to employment.
The warehouse stores the electric tricycle fleet for ground score’s GLITTER program which provides litter collection and tent side waste collection services for houseless camps throughout greater Portland. The team collects an average of 10,000 pounds of trash each week.
Trash for Peace staff said having this space changes lives, providing communal space and consistent support. Adam Solano, the IT and resource manager with Trash for Peace says this space is the first step to connecting with people experiencing homelessness.
“There’s not a lot of public space … especially if you are unhoused, you don’t have the money to go to the bar or to Starbucks,” he said. “We provide that, and it gets people through the door.”
A space for repair, reuse and redistribution
The space hosts reuse and repair programs in the sewing center and carpentry shop.
The sewing and mending program, led by local artist, Rachel Linden, teaches people basic hand and machine sewing plus product design. They hope to develop this program so that all goods are created from material headed to the landfill.
The carpentry shop spans nearly the entire length of the warehouse basement. Woodworker and manager Toma Solano said the main drive of the program is to sustain itself. He and his apprentices are working on their first contract – building awnings, arbors, trellises and gardening tables.
Barbie Weber, Ground Score co-founder and GLITTER program manager with Trash for Peace said the repair programs provide opportunities that start small and grow into life changes. “They make changes in their lives that are more conducive to being on a schedule,” she said. “It’s just a natural thing that happens.”
Everyone on the tour spoke about how the warehouse can help the organizations collaborate with each other. Ground Score Association pickers collect lumber that fuels the carpentry shop and textiles that can be turned into bags or jackets in the sewing studio.
Hauling service providers Junk It Junk Removal and Frog and Toad hauling said leasing space helps their operations and helps keep reusable items from going to the landfill.
Michelle Carter at Junk It Junk Removal said haulers and community organizations often lack space to store materials that can be reused. “One of the issues that [their employees] are running into… is finding donation sites that would take a full truckload, they’d have to run to three different places to get rid of things.”
The warehouse space allows for them to hold onto home goods that could be sold in their retail space or later given to organizations supplying people in need.
Revel with Frog and Toad Hauling said the reuse tools allow them to salvage things that need a little care to be used again. “Just having space, it’s great… we can pick stuff up, we can donate just the crème de la crème,” she said. “But having a space to bring it back and say ‘great, we’re going to tighten these screws’.”