Ruiz: State funding can prevent youth violence in Gresham
On Dec. 13, the Legislature returned to Salem for a successful one-day special session primarily focused on keeping Oregonians housed while rental assistance is on the way. My colleagues and I voted for an eviction prevention package that will provide housing stability for individuals and families impacted by the pandemic.
We didn't stop there. We funded other urgent priorities across the state, from relief for farmers and irrigators impacted by drought due to worsening climate change to support for incoming refugees fleeing persecution and violence in Afghanistan.
But locally, I was particularly thrilled that we invested $2 million to assist the city of Gresham and local community partners in creating and implementing the East Metro Outreach, Prevention and Intervention program.
The program will address rising youth violence and improve public safety outcomes in East Multnomah County by building community and investing in mentoring and culturally responsive youth programming.
This builds on existing efforts that we know are effective.
In 2016, the city of Gresham invested $3,000 into a pilot program with local community partners like Latino Network, Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, Play Grow Learn and Active Children Portland.
These local partners, myself, and volunteers worked overtime and stayed late to run soccer, basketball, and football camps, and plan field trips for kids in the community who were at risk for gang activity. They were able to spend their afternoons and evenings building strong relationships in the community and guide them to a path for success.
We saw local law enforcement attend these events out of uniform to help build trust with the community. Participating students began to know these officers on a first-name basis and we saw police officers who were receptive to the idea of a bridge for positive change.
Unfortunately, we lost funding for the program after the initial pilot and now we have young people throughout the community without structured activities to do after school.
But given all we were able to accomplish in a short time, imagine what we can do with $2 million in additional support, on top of the $1 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act the city of Gresham approved for youth violence prevention.
There has been a national rise in gun violence and the issue has been particularly impacting Gresham. Community leaders have all been working hard to make our community safer.
We know this program works. Now, we will be able to expand after-school activities for students at risk of falling into gang activity and ensure they are not following a dangerous path.
This issue became even more personal for me this year. In addition to becoming a legislator, I also became a father. As my daughter grows up, I want to make sure she and all the children in our community have a safe city in which they can play, learn and pursue the things they love without fear.
While there is understandably a lot of focus on the challenges we face, there is also a lot of good happening in this community. I look forward to restarting this critical local program so that we can set our children up for success.
State Rep. Ricki Ruiz is a Democrat representing Gresham and East Portland he supported sending $2 million to aid Multnomah County with gun violence.
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