The City of Cascade Locks is fighting back against the high rate of drug and alcohol use by both its youth and adult populations.
Officials believe that the economic plight of the community has created a sense of hopelessness about the future that has contributed greatly toward that problem -- a scenario they are determined to change.
"Most rural communities are facing the same problems we are," said Lynae Hansen, chair of the Cascade Locks Interested in Kids (CLIK) Coalition, which is spearheading the battle against drug and alcohol abuse.
The task might appear daunting at first glance since Cascade Locks currently ranks first in the county for unemployment and methamphetamine use among adults alone rose 500 percent between 1997 and 1999. A disproportionate number of youth from the rural town are showing up in the county's teen court for first offenses involving alcohol or drugs. In addition, 10 percent of six graders admitted in a recent school survey that they had used alcohol within the past month and 35 percent said they had smoked before reaching 13 years of age. In the same survey, the use of alcohol within a one-month period climbed to 43 percent among eight grade students although tobacco used remained static.
Last year the Cascade Locks City Council sent out a clear message to drug traffickers that they were not going to tolerate these illicit activities. In July city officials declared the entire community a "Drug-Free Zone" and posted warning signs at both ends of town. The new code cut off travel for 90 days within the municipality to any resident or visitor arrested on "probable cause" for use, sale or possession of illegal drugs.
Now city leaders, law enforcement officials and area service agencies have joined efforts to reinforce that same message through a combination of education, enforcement -- and the promise that better days are coming.
Their battle has been funded by a $400,000 federal grant that will be disbursed over a four-year period through CLIK.
"It's just amazing what you can accomplish when you start bringing in all these players," said Hansen.
The first two expenditures from the Drug Free Communities Grant through the Department of Juvenile Justice was to spend $19,760 for the services of Community Resource Officer Aaron Jubitz and $35,000 to create the position of grant coordinator, held by Heather Laurance.
Jubitz, whose position was funded by a federal COPS grant last July, works through the Hood River City Police Department but serves the entire county. He is spending about 10 hours each week in Cascade Locks to help prioritize policing needs within the community. To accomplish that goal, Jubitz has established neighborhood zones within the city and analyzed three years of crime activity in each area. His next step is to schedule neighborhood meetings in each zone to get citizen participation in combating any identified problems.
Jubitz will also network with the county sheriff's office to keep deputies patrolling Cascade Locks informed about his program and its progress.
Laurance's job is to create more positive activities for Cascade Locks youth and collaborate with area service agencies to help educate and encourage families to make more positive choices. She is currently scheduling a series of parenting classes, setting up the Drug Free Workplace program and overseeing two youth activity nights each week.
Both Jubitz and Laurence will be working closely with School Resource Officer Tiffany Hicks, who was also hired last summer with COPS dollars.
Hicks dedicates one full day at Cascade Locks School each week to educate students about the long-term consequences of drug and alcohol use and investigate a wide variety of cases that includes theft, vandalism, child abuse and sexual assault. One of her primary roles is to establish a relationship with at-risk students and their families to help keep these children on track and in school.
"The most important piece to this is the collaboration," said Hansen.
Several years ago, Cascade Locks enacted a Parent Accountability Ordinance which makes parents liable for damages caused by their minor child of up to $1,000. Sheriff Joe Wampler said with the added police presence in Cascade Locks it will be easier to enforce this code, which could also be an incentive for troubled families to seek the help they need.
On the economic side, Cascade Locks is utilizing the services of Sang Lee, a volunteer with Resource Assistance for Rural Environments, a sister of the AmeriCorps program, to bring broadband communications to the city within the next three months.
Once that technological advance takes place, City Manager Robert Willoughby said the city will draw more high-tech companies, especially when its workforce has also become highly skilled through a series of vocational classes taught locally by Mt. Hood Community College.
To help make Cascade Locks more attractive to potential businesses, Gerard Pahissa was hired part-time last year to enforce nuisance ordinances, such as abandoned vehicles left along city streets, and to coordinate emergency service programs.
In addition, the city has combined its tourism dollars with two grant funds within the past two years to create a public plaza and beautify the downtown area with natural rock and landscaping. Last fall muralist Larry Kangas was hired for $7,000 to paint a historic portrait across an abutment to the Bridge of the Gods at the western edge of town.
"This is sort of a geometric project," said Hansen.