Since we first moved to Portland it became clear that there was a neighborhood, or section of Southeast Portland (we live in SE) that should be “avoided.” It is called “felony flats” by Portlanders and lots of people truly avoid the area. To give you sense of the tension here, I came across a post on Willamette Week’s website (a local weekly paper) from 2005. The author is described as a “night cabbie” and his story can give you a sense of feelings for the flats:
“Most cab drivers have an area where they tend to gravitate, be it downtown Portland or downtown Gresham. I prefer to work in Northeast and North Portland, although I go wherever the orders are waiting.
“The only area I genuinely loathe working in is Southeast 82nd and its surrounds, popularly known as Felony Flats. But tonight things are dead; my computer screen tells me there are five cabs sitting in Northeast, six in the Hawthorne area, yet there are orders waiting out in the Flats.
“I sigh and take an order for-yes, I guessed it-a bar on Foster Road! A bar from which, I might add, I have never taken a passenger for more than a mile, or four dollars (sweaty, smoky, crumpled dollars).
“Tonight is no exception. The guy is skinny, with the bad teeth you get from doing too much meth. He hasn’t bathed in God knows how long. I roll down the windows, grit my teeth and reflect upon just how much money I’ve spent on my education. Unfortunately that gets me thinking about how smell actually works, and the knowledge that I now have molecules from this guy’s funk sticking to the epithelial cells of my nose and mouth makes me want to puke.
“I pull over at the address he gave me, only to discover he has disappeared. With some trepidation, I look down over the back of my seat. He has passed out. His wallet is open on the back seat; he has taken a ten out of it. I take the ten and head up the steps to get someone to help him.“
Brokenness is to be found in all parts of this city and yours but I wonder how often our cultural fears keep us from living the gospel in places like the flats…