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Stovall talks ARPA dollars, public safety, housing during first State of City address

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER KEIZUR - Mayor Travis Stovall delivers the 2022 State of the City address on Wednesday, April 27.This summer the Gresham Homeless Services Team came across an individual who had been living in a local park for "quite some time."

This man was untrusting of the system, because he had been burned by various case workers and support organizations in the past. They had promised help, and then allowed him to fall through the cracks.

After three weeks of working with the homeless man, he agreed to go to a center in Portland. As he began to stabilize, the city of Gresham continued to reach out and connect to ensure he didn't backslide.

Now that man is helping others, working as a case worker in downtown Portland. He leads cleanups and connects with folks similarly untrusting of the system.

"That is what we do as a city, we help people," said Gresham Mayor Travis Stovall. "When other systems fail, Gresham is doing the right thing."

Much of Stovall's first State of the City address focused on efforts of staff within City Hall and the people in the community being supported by their work. Much like that homeless individual, he highlighted the positives taking place across the city.

The Mayor took the stage Wednesday, April 27, in an address given within the new Gresham High School auditorium — a fitting location, Stovall said, because of the youthful energy and hopefulness within the walls of the school.

He spoke of the work done by Gresham City Council to allocate (ARPA) dollars, how the city is working to create a safer community, what is being done for homelessness and increasing the affordable housing stock, and more.

Stovall was sworn into office in 2021 as the 28th Gresham Mayor. This was his first State of the City address because of complications around COVID.

"We have a unique chance to reinvent Gresham and emerge stronger than ever before," Stovall said.

Much of his speech centered on how Gresham City Council has leveraged $25.6 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds. He said leadership has attempted to invest those dollars equitably and in places where they would have the largest impact.

"These funds came at a crucial time and allowed us to address immediate needs within the city," Stovall said. "Inclusive, resilient and equitable recovery."

$500,000 was given to small businesses and entrepreneurs, with a specific focus on uplifting BIPOC businesses.

"This was paramount as we saw record number of businesses close in our community," Stovall said.

Another $350,000 was given for nonprofit organizations and other community groups like Birch Community Services, Latino Network, Rockwood CDC, My Father's House and more. There was also language-specific support for the many cultural groups within Rockwood, with the city translating more documents into multiple languages. That included the large Slavic community that has been reeling from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"The city of Gresham loves you, welcomes you, and stands with you," Stovall said. "We stand with all of our Ukrainian friends."

Many of those dollars went toward public safety, which has been under a microscope both regionally and in Gresham. According to the Gresham Police Department, through the first quarter of 2022 Gresham has experienced a 200% increase in shootings. Through March there had been 86 shootings reported in Gresham, marking a continued troubling trend that has plagued East Multnomah County since 2020.

"This violence is unacceptable and must end," Stovall said. "Our approach is collaborative and comprehensive. Gresham is a city big enough for robust debate and welcome to all while not undermining the systems that keep us safe."

The work has been conducted under the Safe Gresham banner, which has the community, third-party organizations and city leaders coming up with new programs and revenue streams to support the police department.

The largest chunk of the ARPA dollars — $5.2 million — was dedicated to public safety. That money has been used to hire six non-sworn positions within the Gresham Police Department, double the department's mental health team, recruit and retain new officers, more paramedics on staff, and implement better training programs. The funds have also kickstarted a new community safety officer program, which will have non-sworn full-time employees assist during non-violent incidents.

"We believe we tackle the violent crime by not defunding police, but fully funding an accountable police force," Stovall said.

The city also used a $2 million grant to create a Youth Violence Prevention Program, which will offer culturally specific community-based events and services for youths.

"The program allows us to do intervention and prevention better than we ever have before," Stovall said.

Another major investment of $5.5 million was pumped into Gradin Sports Park, which should finally complete its master plan and hopefully attract major tournaments and tourism dollars.

"Gradin isn't simply recreation, it is economic development, tourism and an investment in Gresham," Stovall said. "This will be a much needed post-pandemic jolt."

Gresham leveraged ARPA dollars to save the affordable Alder Crest Apartments, which otherwise would have seen major price increases. Alongside Metro Regional Government, the city also supported Albertina Kerr and Rockwood Village, two developments that will soon go online and add 374 new affordable units. Both those locations also have wraparound services to further support residents.

Just down the block Gresham is set to celebrate the grand opening of the Downtown Rockwood Market Hall this weekend, the latest step in the long-planned development to transform the former 5-acre Fred Meyer parcel in Rockwood. Other groups that have already moved into the series of buildings include Mt. Hood Community College, Work Source Oregon, Wallace Medical Concern, Rosemary Anderson High School, REACH, and the Oregon Tradeswomen.

"These are examples of collaboration and synergy," Stovall said.

Overall the mayor spoke of hope as things continue to return to normal as the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

"I am happy to report the city of Gresham is strong — stronger today than we were a year ago," Stovall said. "We continue to look forward as we begin to reemerge as a city."


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