Homey cafe helps center community
East County space hosts Rosewood Initiative project
Rosewood Cafe at first glance seems shabby - cold, walls lacking plaster or paint, metal folding chairs surrounding a folding table.
But there are homey touches, too: a couch that's well used but comfortable, a ping-pong table, hand-drawn Rosewood-themed signs and pictures decorating the walls.
The cafe, near the corner of Southeast 162nd Avenue and Southeast Stark Street, is a work in progress, part of the Rosewood Initiative that has joined community members, police and nonprofit organizations in an effort to improve public safety and quality of life in the area, and is beginning to branch out into economic development and youth programs.
Eventually the cafe will be a community center. Everything in the space is donated by residents in Rosewood - a 15-block area in the Rockwood neighborhood known for high poverty and crime.
'We empower people to fix the neighborhood themselves,' said Jenny Glass, executive director of the nonprofit Rosewood Initiative. 'That's my role - being a cheerleader for this neighborhood and this project.'
Rather than having partnership members infiltrate the community, make superficial changes and leave, Glass is working to motivate community members into owning the change the partnership wants to achieve.
The Rosewood Cafe project serves a larger goal of making a community out of Rosewood - creating trust, partnership members say, is the key to getting residents to own the idea of improving their community.
Rosewood is dense, about 5,000 people over 15 blocks, spanning 157th to 165th avenues, and Southeast Alder to Northeast Holladay streets.
'The long-term effects remain to be seen. Right now we're just trying to get people together, get them to know each other and trust each other a little more,' said Sgt. Wendi Steinbronn, known by Rosewood residents as Sgt. Wendi, the area's neighborhood response officer who has worked in the Portland Police Bureau's East Precinct for most of her career.
The cafe project, Glass said, is reaching people like Stuey Holmes, 21, who lives in the area. He's been in and out of jail for years - 14 times - and is wary of the increased police presence.
But now he has two daughters as well as two sisters looking to his example, he said, and is hopeful Rosewood Cafe could be a healthy escape for his family.
'I'm loving the picture,' Holmes said. 'I think it could really be done. It'd help crime around here; people wouldn't be so angry. They could walk outside and have something nice.'
'This project is all about reaching community members,' Glass said. 'Does (Holmes) really want to be involved in a project that's associated with police?
'He is. Now he sees himself associated with something positive.'
Despite recent grant awards and progress with the Rosewood Cafe, funding for the initiative is tenuous and partners are scrambling to find support.
'We need to get everyone involved,' said Rex Hollingsworth, 38-year Rosewood-area resident who owns Rex Heating and Air Conditioning, an initiative partner. 'It used to be everyone wanted to live out here. Together I know we can get (Rosewood) good again.'
The Rosewood Initiative started out as a public safety idea for Rockwood, the Gresham-Portland border's notoriously crime-ridden neighborhood.
'People have not felt safe in the area for a while,' Glass said. 'People talk about what it used to be like - suburbia.'
While it's not the neighborhood of a few decades ago, the Rosewood Initiative has succeeded in improving relationships between residents and police.
'Even just a year ago, it wasn't worth it for people to call (the police),' Glass said. 'There's been a huge difference within the past year with personal relationships.'
Portland Police Bureau's East Precinct still has the highest crime rates in the city, but conditions are improving, police say.
According to Portland Police Bureau records, reported crimes in the districts that cover Rosewood increased in 2007, but plunged 11 percent, to around 6,200 reports, during 2008. In subsequent years reports of crime increased: 6 percent in 2009 and 2 percent more in 2010.
Steinbronn said recent increases in reported crime are 'absolutely' due to residents feeling more comfortable reporting crimes.
'It's not an indication the crime rate is up,' she said. 'People are more willing to talk to us, more willing to report things they'd normally say they don't want to get involved in.'
Portland police increased its presence a couple years ago when officers noticed an attitude of apathy among residents.
'They weren't afraid of us; they didn't care,' Steinbronn said. 'People were just hanging around with nothing to do,' which oftentimes leads to crime.
Now, part of officers' job is to get to know people who live and work there in order to build a sense of trust.
Residents say it works
'In the past I used to fight with the police,' said Moe Farhoud, who owns Stark Firs apartments, with four buildings in Gresham and five in Portland. 'I used to cuss them out. … They wouldn't come or they'd come and say get out of here.
'But now we've established a relationship. … They're more understanding than ever; we want them to come,' he said.
Farhoud has lived in the area since 1985, and with his financial investment in the area, he jumped on the Rosewood Initiative Day 1. He attends monthly meetings with representatives from the Gresham and Portland police departments, which also have officers on the board of directors.
'Comparing to the past Gresham and Portland (police) we're doing excellent,' Farhoud said. 'We're so happy at this time.'