Community providers share updates on work to reduce gun violence

December 8, 2022

The meeting included presentations from organizations including FaithBridge Portland, Love is Stronger Inc., POIC + Rosemary Anderson High School (pictured here) and Play, Grow, Learn.

Members of Multnomah County’s Local Public Safety Coordinating Council executive committee heard updates in November from several community-based organizations actively working to reduce gun and community violence.

The meeting included presentations from organizations including FaithBridge Portland, Love is Stronger Inc., POIC + Rosemary Anderson High School and Play, Grow, Learn. Presenters described the myriad ongoing efforts, including legislative work, to curtail violence and save lives. 

FaithBridge Portland

Lisa Saunders, founder and executive director of FaithBridge Portland, began the meeting with a powerful presentation on the success stories of her organization’s work as well as the barriers they experience in helping women heal.

FaithBridge specializes in providing trauma, healing and recovery services for Black and Brown women and girls. 

“My background is as a preacher,” said Saunders. “I’ve been doing healing work in my community for over 20 years, from coffee shops to women’s shelters to residential facilities.” 

Saunders listed some of the traumatic experiences that shaped her, and also affected her loved ones. Her parents were alcoholics, she said, and her brother battled substance use until he died in prison at age 40. Her older sister experienced relationship trauma. 

“I was sexually assaulted at the age of 9 by a man who went on to murder two women,” Saunders said.  

At 26 years old, Saunders was a single mother of two toddlers. She had left a toxic and emotionally abusive relationship after nine years that left her feeling broken. Leaving was difficult. And so were the years she would spend regaining her footing and learning who she was inside.

Yet through her struggle, Saunders says, she found strength, transformation and reconnection to her faith. 

“I created the program that I needed,’’ said Saunders. “I help each woman ground their work through a personal healing plan.”

FaithBridge’s four-month program, which uses a “live again” curriculum that works with cohorts of women, seeks to help participants achieve basic outcomes: 

  • Releasing and reconciling trauma and harm
  • Reclaiming their voice and story, and
  • Recovering their whole and healthy identity.

So far, two cohorts have graduated, with a third in queue. 

“Each woman who graduates from FaithBridge takes her place as a healed pillar in our community,” said Saunders. 

“I have a motto at FaithBridge, and it says, ‘Healed women heal women, and then healed women heal our village. Black women are not only the backbone of this community, but of civilization.”

Saunders shared three examples of women whose stories too often don’t get the recognition they deserve. 

Mariah came to FaithBridge as a young woman who needed to overcome trauma and abuse at the hands of her parents, Saunders said. She suffered for years in foster care, residential shelter and juvenile detention.

“And she came to the program as a broken 19-year-old woman, full of anxiety and fear,” Saunders said. 

Today, Mariah is a youth mentor, advocate and a new part-time employee at FaithBridge.

Nita needed to heal from a lifetime of trauma, abuse and choices that led her into the justice system — including losing the right to parent her children. Nita fought hard to get through the guilt of losing her children, found freedom and worked to forgive those who had harmed her.   

She found her passion and purpose helping families and other women access resources they need. 

She now works as a family resource coordinator at a local women’s program. She is sober and has reconnected with two of her children.  

Tia was raised by her grandmother in a family with gang ties. She started using meth at 14. And for the next 20 years, she lived through cycles of drugs, gang activity, prostitution and jail, struggling through relapse and recovery. But in 2021, she found Saunders’ program. 

Tia graduated as part of FaithBridge’s first cohort and has been sober for over a year. 

“She’s never had that much sober time,” said Saunders. “Her sobriety held even during the recent death of her brother,” who Saunders said was killed in a high-profile, gang-related murder. 

Tia is now a certified recovery mentor and a peer support specialist, Saunders noted with tears in her eyes. She will serve as a client representative on the FaithBridge board, while also working part time as a certified recovery mentor for the organization.

“These are what I call healed pillars that are back in the community helping other women. It’s what I call the beauty and the breakthroughs of this work,” said Saunders. “Those beauties and breakthroughs are to be celebrated. “

But barriers in systems that focus on treatment, intervention and the cessation or changing of behavior — and not on healing — are stunting the work, she said.  

“None of these women at age 7, when asked, ‘What do you want to be?’ said, ‘I want to be a meth addict,’” Saunders said. “We need to evolve as a community to a place where we ask what happened and why it happened.”

A lack of services focused on housing and stabilization also stifles progress. 

Saunders described another woman who cycled through homelessness, incarceration, addiction and trafficking. But she said that even resources like the motel vouchers the woman received, which are helpful to many others, can contribute to the very same crises they’re meant to avert.

Saunders said the woman reached out because she wanted to get into a program, but that so many offered vouchers as an entrypoint. She told Saunders about the motels she’s been trafficked through before, and that she still does sex work to survive. She worried, confiding, “if I go into a hotel, it will not be long before I’ll need money and start the same cycle over again.” 

“How can we get them into stable housing or some other living situation that doesn’t trigger them right back into relapse again?’’ Saunders asked. “How do we heal her?” 

Community-centric lenses are crucial when thinking about services, including the creation of places and spaces that provide culturally specific programs reaching the Black community, Saunders said. 

“My community is now seeing the downstream effect of over 20 years of wholesale gentrification, and even more if you go all the way back to the creation of Emanuel Hospital and the razing of houses and even the 405 bridge, where my own family lost two houses,” Saunders said.

“There’s a lack of generational health and more entrenched generational poverty, leading to despair and hopelessness. Gun violence and gang culture are, to me, cries of desperation. Young people are crying out for help, and we’re a community under siege. 

“Everyone is focused on the murder count, but we should be focused on going upstream — way upstream and having the courage to answer why is this happening and getting the resources to have the ‘why’ healed.”

Love is Stronger

Lionel Irving, founder and director of Love is Stronger, began his presentation with a four-minute video highlighting his organization’s reach and diversity. He also called for a moment of silence for his late nephew Dante Davis, Jr., who had died a few days prior from a shooting at Woodlawn Park.

“I have been on both sides of the gun,” said Irving. “And guys like me don’t get a second chance. So I don’t take my second chances lightly. I do this work from my heart because I don’t want any other young man or woman to face the obstacles or barriers that I had to face just to become a man.” 

Love is Stronger puts its 11 staff members on the front lines doing street-level outreach and working with gang members to bring positive influencers with lived experience to the most traumatized parts of the community.

“We hire gang members who want to be positive, who want to change their lives, who have influence,” Irving said.

Love is Stronger does its work through contracts established with the City of Portland and Safe Summer PDX

“I show that video because it’s important to highlight that everybody has a role to play,’’ said Irving, and to show “how many people and how many lanes that people are in — all headed to one goal to decrease gun violence.” 

Irving and many others identify as “gang veterans,” not as “former gang members,” “because that doesn’t resonate with gang members.” 

“We are in a tsunami of gunfire,” he said. “Any Black man can tell you that as soon as he gets into his car, the first Black man he sees says, ‘Hey, are you gonna shoot me?’ ‘No, I’m not gonna shoot you. Okay, have a good day.’”

“That’s the energy we have on the streets,” Irving continued. “But I am surprised by all the gang members who call my phone and say ‘Hey, Mo, I hear you’re trying to hire dudes to be positive.’ And that’s music to my ears.” 

Recently, the group helped create a positive presence in Dawson Park, a two-acre haven in the heart of North Portland’s Eliot neighborhood. Since early March, Irving said, street outreach there has made a difference in reducing violence in the park.

“I challenge each and everyone of you guys today to drive past Dawson Park. We have been there since March 20. You look at the numbers from March to today and see how many shots someone fired there,” Irving said, noting that gang members have moved from the park. 

“We did that with presence and by being there. It takes real credible messengers to get that point across.” 

Amid the shootings, Irving said, one data point has yet to be counted — the lives that could have been lost but weren’t. 

“There have been a lot of shots fired,” said Irving. “But there have been a lot of shots not fired because of the work that’s been going on.” 

“I also just want to appreciate both of the presenters,’’ said Portland City Commissioner and LPSCC Co-Chair Jo Ann Hardesty. 

“Most of what we heard today has been funded with one-time dollars. If we believe these programs are effective and reach the right people, what is the long-range plan to make sure we’re investing in the community?”  

“It is a strongly held value of the County to fund smaller organizations, especially those run by people with lived experience, because we know the value,'' said Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, who also serves as LPSCC Co-Chair. “We are always searching for other organizations to work with. While I won’t be around in January, I’ll be urging commissioners.”

POIC + Rosemary Anderson High School

Kim Filla, chief family and wellness officer for POIC + Rosemary Anderson High School, said her organization has spent 55 years entrenched in the community serving generations of families.

Kim Filla, chief family and wellness officer for POIC + Rosemary Anderson High School, said her organization has spent 55 years entrenched in the community serving generations of families. 

The organization serves more than 3,000 people annually, with five alternative schools throughout Multnomah County, including east Gresham and North Portland, and is also now in Washington County.

The school helped launch the 11-year-old Community Healing Initiative (CHI), which supports Black youth and families and addresses the root causes of violence. Other partners include the Latino Network and Multnomah County. 

Kamille Irving-Cordero, POIC + Rosemary Anderson’s director of family outreach and community programs, said the program relies on credible messengers and intensive case management.  

“CHI focuses on youth who have involvement in high-risk activities and behaviors such as gun violence and community violence. We work with entire families, parents, and siblings,” Irving-Cordero said. 

The Community Healing Initiative also provides culturally specific support, skill building groups and other services. 

“We focus on building authentic trusting relationships,” said Irving-Cordero. “We listen to the youth voice and the parent voice. Our families want to move from isolation to connect. We target their influences.”  

The program works with organizations including the County’s Juvenile Services and Behavioral Health divisions. CHI works particularly closely with the County’s Gun Violence Impacted Families Behavioral Health Response Team. Referrals are also made to POIC’s Community Cares Team and Healing Hurt People program.

In 2021, 80% of probation participants in the Community Healing Initiative were not referred for a new felony or misdemeanor law violation. The program served 352 families last year, held 192 pro-social activities, groups or events, and referred 178 youths and families to resources.

Irving-Cordero shared a story about Nate, a 22 year old involved in the CHI’s Elevate program. Elevate serves African-American males 17 to 25 years old who have gang involvement and criminal records.

Nate, like other men in his circumstances, has struggled to find stable housing he could call his own, Irving-Cordero said. “He would couch surf, live with friends, girlfriend and then back with his parents.”

But with help from his Elevate case manager, Nate found work in Salem installing solar panels. He signed a lease for an apartment, and soon after the complex’s leasing manager was approaching Nate with additional work opportunities. 

In August, Nate was hired as a part-time leasing specialist, resulting in a reduction in his rent. 

“I’m extremely proud of this young man for the things he has accomplished,” said Irving-Cordero. “He has had no new probation violations and learned to use a budget.” 

Healing Hurt People 

Roy Moore, director of the Community Care Team at POIC + Rosemary Anderson High School, oversees the Trauma and Violence Impacted Family and Healing Hurt People programs

Like the Community Health Initiative, Moore’s programs ask credible messengers to address violence by focusing on prevention, intervention and interruption. 

Case managers in the family program are in daily contact with their clients for the first 90 days, and shift to three days a week for the next 18 months. 

Interrupters, as Moore calls them, are credible messengers and life coaches who work with people at the highest risk of becoming either violent perpetrators or victims of gun violence themselves.    

The Trauma and Violence Impacted Family program served 263 victims and families last year, along with 178 referrals to resources. Life coaches “create life safety plans and receive incentives to reach milestones… and receive resources as needed,” said Moore.  

Healing Hurt People is a hospital-based violence prevention program that incorporates three strategies, said Moore: 

  • Responding to traumatic events within a four-hour window
  • Intensive case management
  • Relocating people from dangerous conditions as needed.

“Relocation is important, because it prevents retaliatory violence and mitigates the risk of threat of ongoing violence,” Moore said. “It can be from a hospital bed to a hotel room to heal properly, to out of state, to prevent retaliation but also death.” 

In 2021, the program served 139 victims. Since July, no clients have been re-victimized, and just one client was re-arrested. Moore said 39 victims and families were relocated, and 17 people received trauma therapy.

“We are extremely proud of that number, the 17 for trauma therapy,” said Moore. 

“The stigma around mental health services and the populations we serve — it only perpetuates cycles of violence,” said Moore. “But with these referrals, we were able to get down to the root causes and address some of the needs associated with the pain and hurt associated with violence.” 

Moore shared Joe’s story. Last year, Healing Hurt People was called to the hospital twice for Joe, who’d been shot in two different incidents. Joe was experiencing homelessness and a substance use disorder. 

Healing Hurt People found long-term housing and drug treatment for Joe, who just marked nine months sober, Moore said. The program also helped Joe obtain a commercial driver’s license so he would work as a truck driver. 

“This story really highlights the holistic approach that we used to address the needs that victims are facing, from homelessness to substance abuse and trauma therapy,” Moore said. “Joe has not been re-victimized, and he has had no police contact and is still receiving therapy.” 

House Bill 4045, which passed in 2022, has helped Healing Hurt People expand its reach with new grant funding. 

Public Safety Village 

Last summer, a consortium of 11 Black-led grassroots organizations created a nonprofit incubator program called the Public Safety Village. The organizations are all led by people who have been affected by or involved in community violence, explained POIC + Rosemary Anderson High School’s Filla. 

The Village helps fill local gaps in violence intervention services by providing cognitive behavioral therapy, conflict resolution, recreation opportunities, decision-making and skill-building classes, support groups for young people experiencing grief or loss, and more. 

POIC + Rosemary Anderson High School provides capacity-building and training support for the organizations, guiding them around service delivery, nonprofit management needs, branding and funding development.

In fact, Filla noted, FaithBridge is a partner in the Public Safety Village.   

Play Grow Learn

Play Grow Learn launched six years ago in east Multnomah County to provide healthy opportunities for sheltered and underserved youth to play, grow and learn, executive director Anthony Bradley said.

“The state of youth was deteriorating in East County, literally day by day,” said Bradley. “And there was no culturally specific support or representation out there.”

Bradley said he and others came together to change that. The team started with a gym where young people experiencing poverty could simply play and be kids. 

The work later expanded to skill-building and youth-development services. And now it includes partnerships with other organizations to help support not just young people, but their families, too. 

“We sit in a unique space between 148th to 257th in east Multnomah County,” said Germaine Flentroy, a co-founder with Bradley, noting a part of the community where many Black youth live.  

The group teaches youth how to grow, eat, cook and even sell food through a farmers market at the Rockwood Market Hall. 

Located in a food desert, the program is on pace, using those skills, to serve over 500 food boxes to families in need in the nearby community. 

“We do over 200 food boxes during Thanksgiving and 250 boxes during Christmas,” Flentroy said, noting partnerships with the County’s Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health program.

Play Grow Learn also provides opportunities for youth to develop micro-enterprises, said Flentroy. 

The program works with young people 5 to 25 years old. Once participants turn 16, they can serve as youth leaders. And, as coaches, Flentroy and Bradley also incorporate sports into their programming.

“So youth in football programs may come back to run football camps and summer camps,” said Flentroy.

The program recently incorporated sessions in nature, stressing the benefits and importance of being outdoors. 

Law enforcement officers also visit the gym. If an officer gets to know a youth, he’s less likely to shoot the youth, noted Flentroy. “That’s a relationship that we’re trying to work with, too,'' said Flentroy. 

“It’s all about trust.” 

Watch the full meeting here.