After months of uncertainty, the city stepped in last week with $400,000 to save Portland's gang outreach efforts—programs that seek to engage kids who are at risk of gang involvement and prevent them from going down that road.
In July, Multnomah County announced it was scrapping its funding for outreach programs, in favor of an intensive case management approach, dealing only with those youths already arrested for gang activity—much to the dismay of many outreach advocates ["Gang Initiation," News, July 20].
This is the second time in as many months Mayor Tom Potter has forked over money to compensate for the county's slim checkbook—on October 30, he allocated $500,000 to fund crisis intervention training for Portland cops, after publicly criticizing the lack of county, state, and federal mental health dollars.
"The county has some real funding challenges," says John Doussard, the mayor's spokesman, diplomatically—he's reluctant to criticize the county for pulling its money and says only, "There are real issues that are important to the people of Portland that we want to address."
But while Potter's generosity—drawn from this fall's unexpected $23 million budget surplus—will see Portland's gang prevention efforts funded until Summer 2008, the long-term security of Portland's gang prevention funding is less secure, since this year's budget surplus is unlikely to repeat itself.
The city picking up where the county left off is familiar to John Canda—he joined the mayor's office in July to head up Potter's new Office of Youth Violence Prevention, after the county slashed dollars for Canda's Youth Gangs Outreach Program. But Canda sees the city's decision to get involved in youth violence prevention as an opportunity for cooperation.
"Those who have worked in this field have struggled for years to get funding," he says. "Kids and families in trouble just want to be well, they don't know or care about requests for proposals or fiscal years—and if this money is a way for us to collectively work with the county to get it done, then we're winning."
Canda's optimistic outlook is framed by his obligation to work with the county's parole and corrections people through the course of his work—he can't slam anybody in public. But nevertheless, his report to the city last week made it quite clear what was responsible for Multnomah County's 31.5 percent increase in officially designated gang members over the last three years: Three former county programs were listed under "signs of the collapse in outreach resources."
"I think the gang services the mayor is proposing are just terrific," says Multnomah County Chair-Elect Ted Wheeler, who will be taking responsibility for the county's budget in January. "It's a community problem and I think as a community we should take ownership of it."
Despite this, Wheeler says the county is focusing on intensive case management, as opposed to early intervention, because its research suggests that would be the most efficient use of the county's limited funds.
"I think everyone is trying to do the best they can with the resources that are available," he says.