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RENEW bridges Portland/Gresham border

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Rosewood Initiative Director of Community Safety Mariel Mota listens as Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney Mary Ryan speak at a recent meeting at the Rockwood Public Safety Facility. An unlikely duo - Multnomah County’s deputy district attorney and the director of community safety at a nonprofit organization - have joined forces to forge better connections along the border of Portland and Gresham.

Mary Ryan, deputy district attorney, and Mariel Mota, director of community safety at the Rosewood Initiative, are the new leaders of RENEW: Rockwood Rosewood Enrichment Neighborhood Enforcement Workgroup, a group of police officials and community leaders that meet in the Rockwood Public Safety Facility, 675 N.E. 181st Ave., at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of every month to talk constructively about issues in the community.

The pair took over the workgroup earlier this year and have already made strides in getting RENEW into the community by having a presence at Rock the Block in May and are planning to participate in the upcoming National Night Out events.

RENEW began several years ago as an initiative from the district attorney’s office to involve the community in collaborative problem solving in an effort to fight crime preventatively rather than reactively.

Jenny Glass, executive director of the Rosewood Initiative, was involved in the initial planning of RENEW but until Mota was hired by the organization the meeting was lead only by the district attorney’s office.

“When Mary was coming in, we felt it would be really good to have a community voice added to the facilitation and since Rosewood has been very active in RENEW, it was sort of a natural connection,” said Mota of taking a leadership spot at the meetings.

“As a DA project, it was very law enforcement driven and it needed the other side of the table at the meeting to balance it and create a more holistic view of crime in Rosewood/Rockwood looks like,” Mota added. “There’s been more of a conversation rather than just a dissemination of information.”

RENEW meetings typically start with a briefing from both Gresham and Portland police on updates about crime and gang violence and then anyone in the room can bring up issues that need solving.

Part of the future of RENEW will be about doing more community engagement. For example, at Rock the Block, RENEW handed out surveys asking people what they liked and didn’t like about their community.

Beyond the typical answers, like Rockwood and Rosewood needing more parks and safe places for children to play, Mota and Ryan also learned that stray cats are causing health and safety issues in the community.

“That was the most frequent answer,” Mota said. “There’s cat poop in the playgrounds and cats everywhere.”

On a good note, people also answered the survey saying that they love community events and would like to see more social activities so they can get to know their neighbors.

“People consistently said that they love the people (in Rockwood and Rosewood) and they love events like Rock the Block,” Ryan said.

The magic of RENEW, the pair explained, is that community members have access to police and other leaders that they might not typically be connected with.

Meetings draw about 20 people representing organizations like Pathways, Human Solutions and the Rockwood Community Development Corporation, as well as landlords from many apartment complexes

in Rockwood. There’s also always representatives from the police departments and area schools.

Since the RENEW meetings have started, landlords have even started their own side group just to talk about some of the unique problems they face.

“There are a lot of solutions to these problems all at one spot and all at one table,” Ryan said.

Mota added, “It’s a really holistic, encompassing and inclusive relationship-building network.”

As problems shift east from Northeast Portland to West Gresham, constituents have a unique opportunity to learn from each other at these meetings as well.

Because the lines are so blurred around the Northeast 162nd Avenue Portland/Gresham border, it makes sense that parties on each side should try to work together.

“Gresham and Portland police are more collaborative than they get credit for,” Mota said. “It’s all one big neighborhood and one big community and we do have to deal with these bureaucratic, sewer-line boundaries that don’t make any sense.”

While Ryan and Mota represent two sides of the coin on many issues, they agreed that the overlap of policing and information on the Portland/Gresham border is a benefit to both cities.

“Historically, Gresham has not had the population that they have now,” Mota said. “They are dealing with a different demographic and Gresham can really use Portland’s age and expertise with these situations and learn a lot with how to be prepared with situations that they haven’t encountered yet.”