Mayor touts community strength
With the federal goverrnment mired in overwhelming discord and partisan politics, local leaders and community members, now more than ever, are the focal point of enacting positive change.
This was a primary theme Gresham Mayor Shane T. Bemis touched on during his State of the City Address on Wednesday afternoon, March 22, at the Gresham Armory on Southeast Division Sreet. The speech covered a variety of topics, including opportunities for children and families, economic development, innovations in 21st Century Policing, street maintenance and the welfare of neighborhoods.
"I have deep concerns with the divisiveness and vitriol that has come to distinguish our federal and state matters," Bemis said. "But here in our community, I believe we represent a much stronger, cohesive bond."
Bemis shared recent successes in the city, and the work being done across different levels of the community to make a difference. The overall tone of the speech was hopeful, with several pauses for thunderous applause and laughter from the gathered crowd of elected officials, business leaders and citizens.
"I thought it was an excellent speech, the mayor did a wonderful job," said Warner Allen, former president of the Gresham Area Chamber of Commerce. "He was able to set the tone and agenda for this community in a positive way."
For Bemis, living in a suburban community such as Gresham lends itself to more dynamic public service because citizens get to know each other better.
"The state of our city is collective, and strong, because each of you wake up every morning and choose to give yourself to the causes and efforts you find worthy," Bemis said.
Emergency services advance
The Gresham Police Department is working to improve relations with one of the most ethnically and financially diverse communities in the state.
"Our community has avoided some of the heated divisions and civil unrest experienced by other communities because of the proactive approach we have taken in pursuing the six pillars," Bemis said.
The department, under the leadership of new Police Chief Robin Sells, has engaged in 15 community-specific listening sessions. They also brought on Corey Falls to serve as the director of 21st Century Policing. Falls, the former Jackson County Sheriff, has been identifying new approaches to keeping the community safe.
"(The department) does tremendous work on an exceptionally lean budget when compared to their peer agencies," Bemis said.
Gresham's Fire and Emergency Services Department successfully deployed a new Quick Response Vehicle and continued its CARES program, which connects nursing students with frequent 911 callers to reduce the volume of issues.
"Just a year ago, if a city of Gresham employee was interacting with a homeless individual, I can promise you that employee was a police officer," Bemis said. "Now, thanks to a partnership with Multnomah County, we have several excellent options available to make progress on that issue."
The city hired its first-ever homelessness services specialist, who works to help individuals access services while building trust. Gresham also created the Clean Start program, which hires previously homeless individuals and provides them with vocational rehabilitation through labor. The team patrols the city five days a week, cleaning up garbage and abandoned camps.
In the first eight months of operation, Clean Start removed 5,607 bags of trash, cleaned up 186 biohazards, addressed 306 illegal campsites and collected 432 abandoned shopping carts.
Bemis highlighted a lack of housing affordability and the epidemic of addiction as major contributing factors to homelessness.
"There is nothing 'humane' about letting people waste away, victims of their addictions, with nothing but a thin tent protecting them from the elements," he said. "Many advocates in our region want us to approach this question under the lens of freedom and liberty, but when that has been traded for the shackles of addiction, we are kidding ourselves."
Last July, Gresham's Commission on Children and Families reported back to the city council with a series of recommendations, among them the idea of creating a community center and pursuing opportunities to expand mentorship programs. While a bond measure to fund a community center failed to pass during the November election, the city has partnered with a nonprofit group to support at-risk youth.
Family of Friends, which was originally housed at Trillium Family services, has moved into Gresham and is now creating matches between local children and mentors. In return, the city has provided office space, technology and support staff.
"Look at what can happen when a city, county, nonprofit, community partners and volunteers come together around a common goal of serving our children and families," Bemis said.
The Gresham-Barlow School District saw its $291.2 million bond approved by voters, while Reynolds School District has hosted several groundbreaking events for three elementary school replacements and improvements to Reynolds High School in Troutdale.
"Our school-aged residents deserve this investment," Bemis noted.
The city celebrated a ribbon-cutting for Subaru of America's massive 600,000-square-foot facility, and construction is underway for more than 1.2 million square feet of industrial flex space at Gresham Vista Business Park off Northeast 223rd Avenue. Boeing, Microchip, On Semiconductor, Teeny Foods, Arnprior Aerospace and Christenson Electric all made substantial new investments in the past year.
"Our economy is on the rise," Bemis said. "I could not be more proud of the efforts we have undertaken to attract good jobs and economic investment."
A massive plan to rebuild Gresham streets will also begin this summer, with a focus on previously neglected residential roads.