Growing a campus and a safe community
By Cari Hachmann/ The Portland Observer
As construction of an underground parking lot is underway at Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus, an expansion provoked by the school’s ever-increasing student enrollment, campus President Dr. Algie Gatewood is celebrating more than just the two new buildings that will be built atop it.
The new structure’s ground-breaking last December was also celebrated by a commitment to safety, on campus and in the north Portland community.
What began as a grassroots initiative to end violence in the Albina-Killingsworth neighborhood, has evolved into the collaboration of multiple local and city organizations in what is today recognized as one of the best examples of community policing that Portland has seen in 20 years.
“We haven’t done this as an individual institution,” said Gatewood, “It is something where we’ve come together and worked together as a community.”
A few years back, the neighborhood surrounding the north Portland campus, notably North Killingsworth Street and North Albina Avenue, may have seemed at odds with Cascade’s student environment, not to mention the residents living nearby.
Public drinking, drug deals, gang violence, graffiti and street robberies had spilled into the community and was disrupting the area known for its vibrant and bustling culture of businesses and restaurants, residential homes and visitors flowing on and off campus ,and from the public library and Jefferson High School nearby.
Early in his term as president of PCC Cascade, Gatewood heard concerns from staff and students about their safety on campus and in the community. Residents, business owners, and police felt it too.
On a crime map used by police to indicate homicides and shootings that occur within a quarter mile, the North Albina-Killinsgworth neighborhood stood out as a little red square. Among other greens, yellows and oranges in the city, red indicates one of the worst areas for violent crime.
As crime took its toll on the surrounding community, PCC Cascade’s campus continued to grow, experiencing a 71 percent increase in head count from 2006, and breaking an all-time enrollment of 24,079 students in 2012.
That’s when President Gatewood realized safety on campus required safety in the community.
In 2006, the Albina Killingsworth Safe Neighborhood’s Commission was created.
Uniting under a common goal to end violence and re-establish safety in the neighborhood, the commission, made up of the Portland Police bureau, Jefferson High School, the city, local neighborhood associations, the Multnomah County Library, TriMet and PCC Cascade Public Safety, became a collaboration of working together to reduce crime.
After listening to the community’s expectations, the plan was to build a sense of security in the neighborhood, not only with short term treatments like increased police presence, but sustainable solutions that would change the culture of crime for good.
One philosophy, Gatewood noted, was a “Behavior Modification Plan.” He says the logic behind it was to change bad behavior in the community by changing the environment that allowed it to exist.
For example, this last summer police officers worked with Portland’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement to install a decorative iron fence to detract the neighborhood’s chronic street drinkers from congregating in an area near campus known as “the Wall, “ Removing a telephone booth nearby, used to make drug transactions, further alleviated illegal activity.
“It wasn’t just about locking people up,” said Gatewood. It was about addressing the whole person, he said. Police personally contacted chronic offenders to explain to them that certain behaviors were no longer acceptable.
Today, Gatewood says the folks causing problems have moved on, while others are becoming more responsible. North Precinct Commander Leloff says they have seen reduced crime and reduced calls for service.
Police on the beat said the total effort was one of the best examples of community policing they’ve seen in 20 years.
“We have met the expectations of the community,” said Leloff. “They asked for violent crime to go down and together we accomplished that. Today, we celebrate people feeling safe,” he said.
Leloff says the neighborhood’s future of safety will be sustained in writing as a signed partnership by all committed members.
Gatewood said in order to have both progress as an institution and in the community for which it resides, there needs to be tremendous dialogue and understanding with the people who live there.
Another example of working together as a community came when neighbors told the school’s Bond Advisory Committee, a team planning PCC’s expansion, that they did not want to see a multi-story parking deck built in front of their homes. In response, the college made accommodations.
While PCC Cascade had the right to apply imminent domain, Gatewood said, “We chose not to go that route.” Rather, he is proud that his community college will be the first in Oregon to build an underground parking structure.
After construction of the sub floor parking is finalized this year, two new buildings will rise above it, a new student services building and an academic building with a childcare center for student-parents.
Gatewood is now looking forward to a greater focus on educational needs.
He is deeply involved in students’ academic student success, and ensuring access to college comes first.
Growing up in a family with five siblings with parents who never finished high school and working full time while putting himself through college, Gatewood says, “It is very important that we provide an opportunity for kids to succeed.”
As far as academics go, Gatewood is looking to Jefferson High School’s Middle College program as a stepping stone for students to continue in higher education. He would like to see it not only as a model for success within the high school, but a program that can be picked up by other Portland public schools.
Gatewood stresses the importance of education becoming an inherited value in the community. If educated, young people are more likely to return as adults to make their neighborhood a better place, he said.
“I have always wanted to become or be a campus of the community and not just a campus in the community,” said Gatewood, “There is a tremendous difference.”