March 2021 Newsletter

Hi friends,

Since we last reached out, there has been quite a bit of activity. Please read on for our updates  (Credit Union (!), etc), the story of the Long Awaited Dorothy Day House, and a request for much needed assistance. 

Our Updates:

  • Mutual Assistance Credit Union Community: It’s finally here, with a kickoff meeting this Monday. This is a pilot initiative with Notre Dame Federal Credit Union, that gathers our extended community (you), modeled on the logic of the Body of Christ, and organized by a cooperative banking initiative with NDFCU. Our first financial mechanism is this: offering 0 or 2.5%-interest loans within the community, made possible by our guaranteeing each other and the community’s “redemption fund.” This will be a way for any of us to prevent or refinance interest bearing debt, while extending access to credit based on means and relationship, not credit score. This is just the framework, as we hope to build relationships, learning, and other cooperative structures around it, and then make the model available to parishes, schools, co-ops and other existing communities.  Here is a description in the form of slides.

  • Agronomic University: Our experiments in shared learning began earlier this year with our weekly Simone Weil reading group. We continued to explore what forms “clarification of thought” might take when we launched our Liturgy and Communion Economy course through Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life. Now we are hoping to make month-long mini-”courses” regularly available, beginning with a 4-week series on “Tolstoy, Christian Anarchist” led by Caryl Emerson (one of Emma’s old professors). If you want to join us, or have ideas for a future series, let us know!

  • Tiny Homes, Real Ownership: Two weeks ago, Ian moved into a Cascadia Clusters mobile tiny home in our yard (making 3 tiny homes in the SWH yard, see picture!), which is our first foray into combining our hospitality and economic visions: making a $15K valued mobile tiny home available on a rent-to-own basis, allowing for someone coming from outside with a modest fixed income to have an opportunity for home ownership commensurate with their means. This includes a way to build equity: Even if this doesn’t work out part of what is paid in will be recoverable, so that he would have money first and last month’s rent, and not be starting again from absolute zero as is typical of those with his income who have lived outside. 

  • Free Fridge & Public Pavilion – our “Public Household” Updates: Simone Weil House is now the home of a PDX Free Fridge. The fridge has been a great way for us to live at least part of our “public household” vision during the pandemic. It’s constantly being restocked by neighbors, local businesses, our own donors. We’re grateful to be able to offer this resource to the neighborhood–or, rather, facilitating neighbors sharing resources with one another. Thanks to Levi, we will have an outdoor pavilion structure within a month so more folks can gather for eating in a manner in keeping with the free fridge starting place.

The Dorothy Day House Story

When we got Simone Weil House going a year and a half ago, I saw a crew boarding up the drug house across the street from us and got the property manager’s card. Fast forward to today – past dozens of delays, a months-long Weil House work project, and painful last minute demands – and it’s… Dorothy Day House! We’d like to share the story, what we’re doing with the place, and how we could use your help to support it. 

It takes an unusual point of departure for a new Catholic Worker house to be a step towards respectability in a neighborhood. “Hell House” provided that. It’s credentials? The name was graffitied on the front porch, and the inside featured upside down crosses, swastikas, “666”s, etc. So how were we to mark the change in regime, Dorothy’s wresting the mantle of 5266 NE 15th from the hands of Satan himself? Backing up a bit, the first step in all this was calling the property manager with the offer that we would clean the place up in exchange for rental dibs. To my surprise he accepted. Among the 2 dumpster loads of trash, and literally thousands of hypodermic needles, there were books – among which were, surprisingly: Marie Kondo’s, The Art of Tidying Up, and Catholic Household Blessings (see pictures). Well today, (writing 3/21) the good Fr John is leading a household blessing service for us, and while the house isn’t tidied to the point of artistry, nor does it feel like the 4th circle of Hell, Dante’s final resting place for hoarders. 

On a more genuinely somber note, this industrial tidying operation was performed in large part by Simone Weil House’s first resident, the now recently passed Doug Newman. The decently paid work with a regular schedule at first seemed like a God send, but over time his failing heart made it harder and then impossible. He passed suddenly this last October. Doug was a medical doctor before health problems led, by stages, to his being on the street, so his attention to detail and project investment was very high. His last great project-attachment was getting the 5266’s property manager to install Pergo flooring; finally, after he was no longer there to plead the case, it was installed and serves as a lasting reminder of Doug’s style and contributions to our community. 

The attachment I personally formed was to renting a reasonably priced home in this pricey neighborhood, close enough to create a combined-house community with Simone Weil House. Over the 15 months of it being a few months, a month, a week away from being ready, this attachment was tested. A few days before we were supposed to sign the lease, things looked like they were going to fall through completely. Long story short, the owner had second thoughts about renting to a non-profit, and, in order to not lose the place, we agreed first to a last minute rent increase, and then to… pay the whole year’s rent up front, which we did with the help of emergency loans from friends of the house. That leads us to our main take away – that we need to raise serious funds. But first, what we’re doing with the place. 

A few words about the folks who now live in Dorothy Day house: Susana (who, with Doug, was our first resident) gets to live in a place she didn’t share with her deceased partner. Rhett moved over from SWH because he was coming off a partial foot amputation, making moving between floors nearly impossible (Simone Weil house has only one bathroom, on the second floor); he can now confine his life to a single floor that has a kitchen, bathroom, and smoking access. Emma was actually slated to move into this house when she moved to Portland in August (!); now, 3 spaces later, she has an indoor bedroom. Louis, our most recent intentional community member, literally has a space in the community because of this house. Besides the inaugural crew, this house has made room for us to invite new residents into the SWH, Ian, Don, and… Don. 

Requesting your support

 If you’re able, we invite you to support our work by making a contribution to our supporting non-profit, In My Backyard. As we mentioned above, the unexpected rent increase and need to pay a full year’s rent up front has put us especially in need of funds (…even after our previous fundraising efforts for the Dorothy Day House). 

Our current monthly expenses for both houses are now about $7,000 (you can see the breakdown here). Recurring donations make it easier for us to plan for the future, and, if it’s a helpful framework, we invite you, your family, or your parish community to consider sponsoring a room in either house for $350 per month. That said, we appreciate donations of any size!

How to Donate

In My Backyard

5311 NE 15th Ave

Portland, OR 97211

  • Or reach out for information for direct deposits. (Note: we recently switched our banking to NDFCU, so our previous banking information is no longer accurate.)

Thank you so much for supporting our community life and work, and, especially as members of our household are slowly being vaccinated, we look forward to having you over for dinner soon!


Bert, Emma, and Louis