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PCC, partners help people start again with a clean slate
Photos and Story by James Hill
PORTLAND, Ore. – On Saturday, July 9 at Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus, more than 4,000 people got a second chance. The campus, located at 705 N. Killingsworth Street, hosted Project Clean Slate, an amnesty day for citizens with legal problems. It was a chance for them to clear up suspended driver’s licenses or outstanding warrants preventing them from getting a job or qualifying for public assistance in a one-stop fashion and without fear of being arrested. Project Clean Slate also helped to clear up some of the Multnomah County’s backlog of un-served warrants for less-serious offenses. And it was a chance to get those in need signed up for the Oregon Health Plan, food stamps or drug treatment."This is what community colleges are all about, providing an opportunity for a second chance," said Kal Robertson, director of PCC’s Emergency Services programs. "All of the services that we provided were free to those who showed up. To host an event like this one made perfect sense to us."Project Clean Slate consisted of groups of 50-75 people cycling through the building at a time. Once the attendees were first registered at the door, they had an opportunity to consult with attorney who would advise them on their case and explore social services available to them. Once finished, they’d see the judge in one of two Circuit Courts set up in the facility and visit about 30 community service agencies set up in another part of the building. In total, the project featured 300 volunteers, six judges and 30 volunteer attorneys. PCC offered a two-hour community service class, as well."There wasn’t one scuffle," said Robertson, who stated people came to the event from all over the country. "Everyone was so patient."PCC teamed up with Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schrunk and Portland’s African American Chamber President Roy Jay. More than 20 social services organizations provided help. They included grocery store chain Safeway, which handed out box lunches, and the Highland Church of Christ, volunteers offered free child care.Sponsors included private attorneys, parole and probation officers, the Portland Police and Multnomah County Sheriff’s departments, juvenile justice and public defenders office, faith-based groups, mental health and community service organizations.Schrunk, who in the past has staged several modest amnesty days for offenders, said the large scope of the project made it different than the others."We involved more people and organizations," he said. "And that is what is so exciting about this new effort."At the planning meeting a few months ago, 63 enthusiastic volunteers attended. Schrunk noted the roomful of people and said, "The hard and soft sides are meeting up," he said. "This is a community commitment." Other Clean Slate projects will be planned for the northeast, southeast and downtown areas of Portland as a result of the PCC event’s success. PCC reaped benefits from its sponsorship of the event as students from the college’s Emergency Medical Technology, fire protection and paralegal programs all assisted. For example, the paralegal students helped tally statistics for the Circuit Court. As a result, Schrunk has offered his office for future internships.And it was a chance to put the Public Services Education Building to good use. The building was a $3.2 million remodeling project of a former supermarket on North Killingsworth Street and North Mississippi Avenue. It houses public service programs such as Emergency Medical Services, Paramedic, Criminal Justice, Paralegal, Emergency ETC/911 and Fire Protection. "This was a fantastic opportunity for the staff students and college to give back to the community," Robertson added. "Especially since the community gave us this new facility through the last bond measure." The college and its partners are planning a Clean Slate II event for this fall.