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Why Portland is focusing gun violence outreach around 3 eastside high schools

The city of Portland wants community organizations to work with teenagers in areas with high rates of gun violence and has identified three high schools as hubs.

PORTLAND, Ore. — "You'll hear gunshots like ... it's not foreign to us."

Oliver Zimber, a student at McDaniel High School in Northeast Portland, said he gets why city leaders are concentrated on his neighborhood.

"I think it's good people are focusing on areas like this, it's pretty prevalent."

In its fight against gun violence, the city of Portland is asking community organizations to work with teenagers and young adults in the areas surrounding three eastside high schools.

Portland's Office of Violence Prevention identified McDaniel High School, Parkrose High School and David Douglas High School as focus points for its street level outreach plan.

Seven community organizations applied to the city's request for proposals (RFP), which asked for groups to work with "high-risk youth and young adults" who are "at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators of gun violence."

"When I saw the RFP, I read it and said this is exactly what we do," said Lionel Irving, CEO of Love is Stronger, one of the applicants for the city contract.

Portland plans to give $1.56 million of American Rescue Plan funding — $780k per zone — to one or two community organizations to provide the gun violence prevention and outreach work over the next two years.

Irving said he believes in the proposed plan.

"Why not, you know, put a hub around the schools and then let that vibrate out to the community that’s already struggling," he said.

City of Portland leaders subscribe to a 'cure violence' model, believing that gun violence is a public health issue, an "infectious" condition that’s both treatable and preventable.

In this treatment plan, the identification of McDaniel, Parkrose and David Douglas as hubs for the surrounding areas stands out as unique.

The plan doesn't call for any direct partnership or work within the high schools, but the listed focus on young adults in the areas surrounding the three schools illustrates intent for community organizations to serve those children.

Sierra Ellis is the interim manager for Portland's Office of Violence Prevention (OVP).

"The students within those high schools are just like any other student in the city of Portland, [this is] just where high incidents of gun violence are occurring," Ellis said.

The OVP shared a map of shooting clusters, last updated in August, which shows pockets of shootings on the eastside, with the three targeted high schools at the heart of some of the most concerning areas.

On a phone? Click here to open the interactive map fullscreen

However, the data used by OVP doesn’t indicate that students were the cause of this gun violence. So then why set a specific focus on youth outreach?

"Getting to individuals early, intervening before they pick up a gun, before they shoot someone, and before they become a victim of gun violence is important," Ellis said. "It changes the trajectory of your life."

Ellis said the city plans to select one or two organizations to work in the Northeast Portland and Southeast Portland areas by the end of May.

Irving said whichever organization is picked can’t do this alone, the community needs to be more proactive.

"Get involved before your child gets shot, that’s where real prevention happens," he said. "If you’ve got any type of resource to help to reduce gun violence then we need you."

However, he believes this focused outreach concept is promising.

"Gun violence is getting younger and younger and in my mind, these are geographical areas where we know students are going to be," Irving said. "So if we know students are going to be here, we need to have positive influencers around to make sure they have resources [and people] to talk to.”

The following community organizations applied to work in the Northeast Portland zone:

  • 3v3ryDay Grind, LLC
  • Going Home II
  • Guia, Inc.
  • Love is Stronger
  • Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA)

The following community organizations applied to work in the Southeast Portland zone:

  • 3v3ryDay Grind, LLC
  • Going Home II
  • Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization


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