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Sanctuary Model Shows Dramatic Improvement in Juvenile Behavior

During the grant reporting period of a Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative, the town of 14,000 people 70 miles east of Portland, saw the percent of students reporting involvement in a physical fight drop from 20.1 percent in 2010 to 12 percent in 2013, and the percent of students reporting having at least one drink of alcohol in most recent month fall from 30.6 percent in 2010 to 17. 4 percent in 2013.
August 18, 2015

Wasco County overall reported zero juvenile arrests during the typically rowdy spring break of 2013, the lowest level of juvenile crime in history, said Trudy Townsend, trauma-informed care coordinator for the Creating Sanctuary in the Columbia River Gorge movement who now leads community health development projects through the Columbia Gorge Coordinated Care Organization for PacificSource.

“We’re working to transform our community,” Townsend told her audience at the Oregon Health Authority’s resilience speaker series. “Our original goal was to rescript the future.”

The Dalles has a long history of trauma -- from the building of The Dalles dam in the 1950s on the sacred Celilo Falls fishing site to more recent racial profiling of Latinos and even the merger of two school districts.

Calling these events “trauma,” Townsend said building relationships across law enforcement, education, juvenile justice, child welfare and mental health leadership was key. “We all had the same goal. We were ready to move.”

The sanctuary movement in The Dalles benefited from getting many community members on the same page -- with shared knowledge, values, language and habits or practices. Trainings to teach sanctuary ways of operating “when emotions get really big” were open to anyone including nonprofits, public health, the faith community, even the business community.

Then those organizations underwent cultural change and adapted the practices for the groups they serve – from tiny tots in Head Start to adults.

Because many people involved represented organizations serving five counties – Wasco, Sherman and Hood River counties in Oregon and Skamania and Klickitat counties in Washington – the local sanctuary model quickly became regional.

Townsend reminded her audience that racial traumas plague cities all across the country, while in Oregon, many communities are being traumatized by wildfires..

“Take risk in order to create big change,” Townsend said. “Change the question to ‘what’s happened to you?”

Jan can be reached at [email protected].

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