If you look up the corner of Southeast 34th Avenue and Southeast Belmont Street in Portland on Google Street View, you’ll see a man sitting on a stoop outside the Belmont Market. He’s wearing khakis and a blue jacket with a white button up shirt underneath. His face is blurred out, but it seems like he’s just perked up, looking back at the car-mounted camera in front of him.
That’s Leroy Sly Scott. For over 30 years, he and his wife Henrietta were members of Portland’s Sunnyside community. He was houseless, but you could often find him, right there, on that stoop. Scott died from cancer in 2020, but you can still find him on that block today. The Portland Street Art Alliance recently commissioned a mural there, honoring Scott and Portland’s houseless community.
“This was Leroy’s hood,” says Tony Boone, a Street Roots newspaper vendor and close friend of Scott’s.
“He was just the friendliest guy and he could befriend you in 5 minutes,” Boone says. “It didn’t matter who you are, he didn’t care about color, race, gender, none of that.”
“Leroy was a very colorful person,” says Caleb Ruecker, an artist and friend of Scott’s. “He was just loving and caring and joyful. He would always just welcome people on the streets. We wanted a mural to pay tribute to his life and keep his stoop alive.” Ruecker worked to bring the mural to life along with artists Kyra Watkins, Sarah Farahat and Tammy MacKinnon. It’s a colorful portrait of Scott, along with his informal slogan — ‘all around the world, same song’ — from the early 90s Digital Underground Song.
“Our favorite thing was outdoor TV,” Boone says. “That’s what we would call it when we’d sit on that stoop and watch everything that goes on around us. You know, you’d see an argument, or somebody yelling, or beeping their horns at a car that’s going by, and Leroy would go, ‘all around the world, same song!’”
The mural is part of a larger project the Portland Street Art Alliance is calling the Leroy Blocks. They’re raising funds for second mural a block away with the message “house keys, not handcuffs.”
“Part of it is just to feel like you’re a part of the community,” Boone says. He’s lived in his van for the last ten years, but like Scott, Boone says he’s been a part of daily life in Sunnyside. “I’m treated like I am part of the community,” he says, “and I treat it as part of the community, too: I don’t steal from it, I don’t litter, I don’t trash it.” He’s appointed himself as the de-facto caretaker of Scott’s memory on the block. Now that the mural is up, he helps the business owners keep the block clean and chases away would-be graffiti taggers.
Still, Boone says he doesn’t always get respect from people on Belmont street.
“The homeless population is harassed more than… sometimes it feels like we’re the last boogeyman,” he says. “I’ve listened to groups of people at these bars just sit there and trash on homeless people.”
Boone says he hopes that the Leroy Blocks will help to raise awareness about the situations of people like him and Scott.
“Don’t treat us like criminals just because we don’t have the normal house,” he says.
Listen to Ruecker and Boone’s interview with OPB Weekend Edition host John Notarianni using the audio player above