Trees at the Bybee Lakes Hope Center

Trees are on the path to recovery and reentry at the Bybee Lakes Hope Center

For 16 years a giant empty building sat on a large, barren site in North Portland. Today, what was intended to be the Wapato Jail is now a place of recovery and hope, surrounded by new trees and a new Victory garden.

The Bybee Lakes Hope Center, run by Helping Hands Reentry Outreach Centers, serves people who are experiencing homelessness. Friends of Trees played a part in helping establish green infrastructure at the site and now BLHC residents, staff and volunteers have access to what is essentially a mini-arboretum, where a wide variety of trees will do what trees do best: clean the air, provide oxygen, shade, and habitat for bees and birds, while also helping to ease stress and contributing to other positive health outcomes for the folks who live there.

Reading about how BLHC redefined space inspired Friends of Trees Deputy Director Whitney Dorer to take a deeper look. Whitney shares, “I loved that a place intended to incarcerate became a place of healing and renewal, but I was struck by the lack of vegetation, there wasn’t anything green surrounding the building. I thought  about someone staying in that building and wanting to go outside, and that there was no shade, no outdoor respite. I thought Friends of Trees could play a role.” So Whitney reached out to HHROC with a tree planting proposal.

Whitney met with Raven Russell, Director of Data & Major Projects for HHROC and the project grew. VetREST Oregon, which serves veterans, joined as a partner to create a Victory Garden where residents can grow their own food. Partners and residents were joined by landscape designer Tracy Ceravolo who donated her time to help design the site and choose trees. More than 20 different species are planted at the site, including red alder, American beech, dawn redwood, incense cedar, doug fir, fig and other fruit trees, magnolia, scarlet oak, Oregon white oak, giant sequoia … and more!

Friends of Trees Senior Neighborhood Trees Specialist Andrew Land helped with the tree side of things, “It was like designing an arboretum! It’s a huge variety  of trees, chosen for drought tolerance, disease and pest resistance, and also chosen with an eye toward having a variety of leaves, flowers and forms.”

HHROC Development Director Mike Davis applauds the partnership,

“The partnership between our organizations has been great as we’ve worked to build out our therapeutic Victory Garden. Having Whitney and Drew guiding us on the types of trees as well as their care has been invaluable and will ensure that our trees grow and thrive. Without Friends of Trees and their volunteer army, we couldn’t have planted 150 trees in 1 day.”

Tree care shouldn’t be a problem at this site because residents and community volunteers are available. A recent visit to check on the trees after an unseasonable warm spell demonstrated that the BLHC community has done an excellent job—the trees are well-watered and thriving!

Bybee Lakes Hope Center in and of itself is an amazing place, providing much-needed services to people in our community who are experiencing houselessness. And thanks to a special partnership, the blank slate of the site is getting green and actively contributing to people’s restoration and healing.