The sun beats down on Audrey McCall Beach directly south of the Hawthorne Bridge, steps from the Eastbank Esplanade. Families cool off in the waters of the Willamette River, sunbathers lie on towels, and the pulse of traffic on the bridge overhead and to the east sounds like ocean waves, if you close your eyes.
A man in dark clothes and sunglasses moves methodically up and down the rocky beach. He is bent over, eyes glued to the ground. Scotty Atkins is at work this hot afternoon, turning over rocks to find shards of glass and plastic, used needles and other debris. He combs through the remains of a still-warm campfire for rusty nails.
“We don’t like signs of fire down here. It doesn’t make it child-friendly,” he says.
Atkins, who sleeps in a tent in a nearby neighborhood, has been cleaning this beach on his own time, for free, for years.
“That’s what I do; I pick up trash,” he says. “I like feeling committed to this spot because it’s where my heart is.”
Now, thanks to an innovative Portland coalition known as Ground Score, Atkins is getting paid for what he is doing, along with a growing number of other homeless people who are organizing themselves and creating jobs collecting and sorting trash.
So far, Ground Score is succeeding wildly.