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Portland's Chinese Garden hires private security after assaults to staff, vandalism and incidents in Old Town

In recent months, the garden's staff said they have dealt with 161 incidents that vary from gunshots and public indecency, to drug use and fist fights.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Lan Su Chinese Garden, once a gem city leaders touted, is battling a slew of society's ills that have been brought to light since the pandemic began in 2020.

Businesses and non-profits alike in Portland's Old Town district are struggling, not just to stay open, but to keep their workers safe. Just in the last few months, several high-profile assaults and shootings have been reported in Old Town. 

A woman visiting from out of town was stabbed in the middle of the afternoon at NW 3rd and Couch Streets in July. A man was shot and killed inside a nightclub in August, and then five people holding a vigil in his honor outside that club were injured in a drive-by shooting.

In the last year, there have been five homicides in Old Town. The year before, there were zero. There have been 20 shootings there in the last year, more than twice the number from the year before, and the vast majority happened in the last six months.

The Lan Su Chinese Garden, one of those businesses struggling to keep their employees and visitors safe, has taken serious safety precautions in light of vandalism, assaults and drug use. 

RELATED: Straight Talk: Addressing the humanitarian crisis on Portland's streets

Elizabeth Nye, the executive director of the garden, sent out a very blunt email newsletter about the situation at hand.

"I have had staff assaulted. I have had people chasing after them with metal pipes. We had somebody die on the streets right next to [the garden]. We have had gunshots. All of this is too much to ignore and not address. We will do what is necessary for us to keep our staff, our visitors and our volunteers safe," Nye said. 

They've had to hire private security, they've partnered with non-profits to clean up sidewalks and the workers have to use a buddy system if they want to use public transit. Nye sent KGW a list of "incidents" the garden staff has had to deal with. From July through Sept. 23, they recorded 161 incidents that vary anywhere from gunshots and public indecency, to drug use and fist fights.

When asked if she feels the garden is being forgotten by the people of Portland, Nye said, "That's a great question. I don't know that we are forgotten about, I feel like people see what is happening. I just am not convinced there's an urgency to addressing what is happening... it's extremely urgent."

The mayor's office organizes a weekly problem-solvers meeting with the leaders in Old Town, but sources tell KGW the city only focuses on things they feel have an immediate solution, like parking. 

"Some of the conversation has shifted to... everybody knows what the problems are, 'So don't come to me unless you have solutions.' That's what we're being told. Well, I don't have the solutions. My job is to run Lan Su. Your job is to show up and make our city safe so that we can do that," Nye said.

Many of the people who work at Lan Su are volunteers, and most of them are older people and Chinese Americans, who have been racially targeted.

 A national coalition addressing anti-Asian racism released a report in May of this year that outlines the thousands of hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that occurred over the past year across the country.

From mid-March 2020 to the end of March 2021, there were 6,603 hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders reported to Stop AAPI Hate, a California-based reporting center for such crimes, and its partner advocacy groups.  

Oregon ranked in the top 20 states with the most hate incidents. From mid-March 2020 to the end of February 2021, Oregon reported 41 incidents.

RELATED: Stop AAPI Hate releases new data on hate incidents during COVID pandemic