Oregon News

Won’t you be my neighborhood watch? Survey finds many neighbors saying yes

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By ANNA DEL SAVIO
Oregon Capital Bureau

A majority of Oregonians trust their neighbors and believe they’d help them out in a pinch, a new survey from the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center found.

Christopher Webster, a North Portland resident, defined neighborliness as “a mutual responsibility for people who live near each other.” Laurie Holst, a Corvallis resident, defined it as “an awareness of what is going on around you, on your own block.”

For some Oregonians, that means keeping an eye out for potential criminal activity. But for others, the focus is on building a sense of community and helping each other with the more mundane tasks of life, from bringing in the trash bins to borrowing a lawn mower.

Sienna Fitzpatrick of Deschutes County said “feeling a sense of community means I know there are people I trust who I can reach out to when I need help or want to socialize. It also means expressing gratitude and giving back to the place I live.”

Fitzpatrick lives across the street from an elderly woman of whom everyone on the street is very fond.

“I often see a number of children joining her on her slow walks around the neighborhood, and a man comes once a day to help her with her daily needs” Fitzpatrick said. “She always waves to me when she sees me, and I plan to bake her some goods once the weather cools down. She is a great example of being neighborliness going both ways.”

Holst landscaped a portion of her front yard with a small rock river and added toys to entertain the children that toddle by with their parents.

An unknown neighbor once added some sweetly painted rocks to the yard.

A former teacher, Holst said she missed connecting with kids.

“That was my way (to) just get to know some of the younger families in this area,” Holst said. Now, “they know our dog’s name, our cat’s name, my name.”

Almost 65% of Oregonians said people in their neighborhoods talk to and help one another, but that response varied among different groups.

Among Oregonians with at least $100,000 in annual income, 78% said their neighbors talk to and help one another. Only 56% of those making $50,000 or less said the same.

For Joe Turner, a Columbia City resident, most of his closest neighborly relationships are with other retired folks. Turner and his wife walked a neighbor’s dog for months after the neighbor had medical issues.

Some of the other neighbors “are working class people” who don’t have as much time to spend out in their yards, where Turner said much of the neighborly chit-chat happens.

A slim majority of Oregonians said their neighbors were ready and willing to socialize, but a higher percentage said they believed their neighbors would help them when they need it.

Outside of casual social interactions, neighborliness has taken the form of neighborhood watch efforts, wildfire prevention efforts like the FireFree program in Bend, little free libraries, exchange groups like Buy Nothing, and other mutual aid organizations.

Multnomah County residents reported less trust in their neighbors than the rest of the state, with only 58% of Multnomah County residents saying they trust their neighbors, compared to 67% in the rest of the state. Statewide, urban residents reported lower levels of trust than suburban and rural residents.

Alicia Caudle, who moved to Drain five years ago, said her neighborly connection started strong soon after she and her family moved in, when her neighbor went to great lengths to help Caudle’s family move a massive shipping container onto their property from the side of the road.

“He would not let me give him money,” Caudle said. His response was essentially “no, we’re going to need help, I’m sure, at some point,” Caudle said.

Not long after, Caudle’s husband helped those neighbors when their car broke down.

When a storm hit and Caudle’s family was without heat, their neighbors let them stay in their cabin for more than two weeks. The road out of Caudle’s rural neighborhood was closed, blocking off grocery access, but Caudle shared food with her neighbors.

The experience is far from what Caudle experienced in North Portland, where Caudle said she got odd looks when trying to say hello to some neighbors.

“We really lucked out. We consider them to be our family,” Caudle said of their Drain neighbors. They don’t hang out often, “but if anybody needs anything, we’ve got each other’s back.”

Multnomah County and the rest of the state were closer in their responses to whether people in their neighborhood talked and helped each other, with 63% of Multnomah County residents and 65% of other Oregonians agreeing.

Webster said in the 26 years since he purchased his North Portland home, he’s watched the block evolve as neighbors come and go.

He knows various neighbors well enough to lend out a lawn mower or other equipment, or at least well enough to wave at each other when out walking.

Webster and his husband used to host block parties, renting a bouncy house for the kids and sharing food and games.

“I like a sense of community so I wanted to foster it,” Webster said. “We deliberately did it as a catalyst to make the neighborhood more of a neighborhood.”

Webster’s husband died earlier this year. While he was on hospice and after his death, neighbors offered support through visits, yard work and dog walks.

“I got a lot of support from them, and still do,” Webster said.

Webster said it has often taken a few years for relationships to develop with new neighbors that move in, some of whom are renters.

In the survey, renters reported lower levels of trust, conversation and help in their neighborhoods than homeowners. But compared to homeowners, renters were as or more likely to say they had given or received everyday practical or emotional support to someone outside their household in the past week.

Though many respondents said they had a few neighbors they were close with, no one had a 100% friendship rate.

“There’s also a number of folks that do keep them to themselves, too,” Holst said. “But yet, if our house was on fire, they’d probably be throwing buckets of water on it.”

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