Remembering Leroy’s Front Step: Mural Project Honors Longtime Member of Portland’s Homeless Community

If you look at 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 Belmont Market. He wears khakis and a blue jacket with a white button-up shirt underneath. His face is blurry, but it looks like he’s just perked up, looking at the camera mounted on the car in front of him.

This is Leroy Sly Scott. For more than 30 years, he and his wife Henrietta have been members of the Sunnyside community in Portland. He was homeless, but you could often find him, right there on that porch. Scott died of cancer in 2020, but you can still find him on this block today. The Portland Street Art Alliance recently commissioned a mural there, honoring the homeless community of Scott and Portland.

Mural commemorating Leroy Sly Scott, a longtime member of Portland’s Sunnyside homeless community. This is part of a series of murals honoring the homeless community organized by the Portland Street Art Alliance.

Portland Street Arts Alliance

“It was Leroy’s neighborhood,” says Tony Boone, Street Roots newsboy and close friend of Scott’s.

“He was just the friendliest guy and he could befriend you in 5 minutes,” Boone said. “It doesn’t matter who you are, he didn’t care about color, race, gender, none of that.”

Caleb Ruecker with his friend Leroy Sly Scott, a homeless Portlander who died in 2020. For years Scott could be found in the Sunnyside neighborhood.  A new Portland Street Art Alliance mural commemorates his life.

Caleb Ruecker with his friend Leroy Sly Scott, a homeless Portlander who died in 2020. For years Scott could be found in the Sunnyside neighborhood. A new Portland Street Art Alliance mural commemorates his life.

Caleb Ruecker

“Leroy was a very colorful person,” says Caleb Ruecker, an artist and friend of Scott’s. “He was just loving, caring and cheerful. He always greeted people on the street. We wanted a mural to pay homage to his life and bring his porch to life. Ruecker worked to bring the mural to life with artists Kyra Watkins, Sarah Farahat and Tammy MacKinnon. It’s a colorful portrait of Scott, along with his informal catchphrase – “everywhere in the world, same song” – from the early 90s Digital Underground Song.

“Our favorite thing was the outdoor TV,” Boone says. “That’s what we would call it when we sat on that front porch and watched everything that was going on around us. You know, you’d see an argument, or someone yelling, or honking at a passing car, and Leroy would say, ‘All over the world, same song!’

Tony Boone and Caleb Ruecker (with Boone's dog, Frank Sinatra) with a portrait of their late friend, Leroy Sly Scott, in Portland's Sunnyside neighborhood on June 4, 2022.

Tony Boone and Caleb Ruecker (with Boone’s dog, Frank Sinatra) with a portrait of their late friend, Leroy Sly Scott, in Portland’s Sunnyside neighborhood on June 4, 2022.

John Notarianni/OPB

The mural is part of a larger project that the Portland Street Art Alliance calls the Leroy Blocks. They’re raising money for a second mural a block away with the message “house keys, not handcuffs.”

“Part of it is just to feel like part of the community,” says Boone. He’s lived in his van for ten years, but like Scott, Boone says he’s part of everyday life in Sunnyside. “I’m treated like I’m part of the community,” he says, “and I also treat it like part of the community: I don’t steal it, I don’t throw it away, I don’t throw it away.” He has appointed himself the de facto guardian of Scott’s memory on the block, and now that the mural is up, he helps the business owners keep the block clean and hunts down would-be taggers.

Still, Boone says he doesn’t always get the respect of people on Belmont Street.

“The homeless population is more harassed than…sometimes it feels like the last boogeyman,” he says. “I’ve heard groups of people in these bars sitting around and bashing homeless people.”

Boone says he hopes the Leroy blocks will help raise awareness about the plight of people like him and Scott.

“Don’t treat us like criminals just because we don’t have a normal home,” he says.

Listen to Ruecker and Boone’s interview with OPB Weekend Edition host John Notarianni using the audio player above

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