Social Cohesion

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When looking at determinants of health, social cohesion is a good snapshot of relationships, networks and alliances that reinforce a level of trust among citizens and decision-makers promoting the idea of inclusion and active participation. It creates a multi-functional support system for the individual and family at the time of need or isolation.

The 2015 County Health Rankings listed Cowlitz County as having the fourth highest rate of mentally unhealthy days reported in the past 30 days at 4.1 average days (age-adjusted). Factors which help to combat social isolation include: community events or fairs, connections to schools or sports, or recreational / community education programs.

The last general election in Cowlitz County brought a change in the community demographics, as the voter turnout was better than the state average.

Other successful approaches to reducing isolation and improving neighborhood connectedness have included the work of the Highlands Neighborhood Association and the South Kelso Neighborhood Association.

Drug-Free Communities Grants have supported coalitions in Longview, Kelso, and Castle Rock, but there is no countywide organization. This lack of resources contributes to the County’s inability to reduce excessive drinking by adults. The County Health Rankings identified adults reporting binge or heavy drinking at 19% for Cowlitz County, the fourth highest rate in the state. Drug and alcohol related deaths continue to climb faster than the state average.

Rates for child abuse and neglect and domestic violence have increased in the past two years. Local professionals believe economic insecurity, social and mental health problems, and drug and alcohol abuse have contributed to the rising numbers.

Washington State became the second state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana. This created a problem by making marijuana more readily available. It was reported in the 2014 Healthy Youth Survey (HYS) for Cowlitz County that 72% of 12th graders perceive that it is easy or very easy to get marijuana. Additionally, 74% of 12th graders also believe there is no risk or low risk from trying marijuana once or twice, and 45% believe there’s no risk or low risk from using marijuana regularly once or twice a week.

If children grow up in a community where the lack of social cohesion can be a contributing factor to adverse childhood experiences, it is the responsibility of the community to support protective factors and reduce risk factors. Opportunities abound for concerned citizens who wish to get involved and help reduce the impact of these negative issues.

Call to Action - Personal: 
  • Join a parent/school activity
  • Volunteer
  • Support efforts for social justice and health equity
  • Discourage discrimination at all levels
  • Support Love INC
  • Participate and attend local cultural and community events
  • Reach out to neighbors to reduce isolation
  • Register to vote and vote
Call to Action - Community: 
  • Offer best practices parent education programs
  • Build neighborhood coalitions to address problem solving and safety
  • Encourage healthy lifestyles Support Block Watch programs throughout the county
  • Ensure community activities are inclusive and accessible
  • Celebrate diversity
Call to Action - Policy Makers: 
  • Reduce homelessness with expansion of public/private housing
  • Fund suicide prevention programs
  • Fund parenting skills programs to increase bonding and school readiness
  • Ensure adequate funding and accessibility for behavioral health and substance abuse
  • Include low-income, ethnically diverse, and neighborhood residents in advisory and policy making groups

Success Stories

Cowlitz County Veterans Service Center
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With a goal of connecting veterans with resources, the Cowlitz County Veterans Service Center opened early this year in Longview. The Center provides and promotes a safe, confidential environment and a friendly ear for U.S. Veterans and their families. The Center assists clients by helping them build positive relationships and overcome barriers they face as they reintegrate to community living. With a “Veterans Helping Veterans” theme, the nonprofit helps connect veterans with resources they need including: employment, education, health and wellness, mental and behavioral health, housing, basic needs and benefits applications.

Anti-bullying program in schools
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Addressing issues of inclusion, bullying, and building connections and understanding between teens and their peers is the focus of United for Change, a program started at Mark Morris High School by Travis Ruhter, Washington State’s Leadership Teacher of the Year in 2013. The program has since expanded to high schools throughout the county. The program is comprised of three components: Make the Change, a one day seminar; Be the Change, a three day weekend retreat; and Live the Change, an ongoing follow up and mentoring program. Goals of the program include: addressing personal identity, developing leadership and organizational skills, developing empathy and sensitivity to others, developing skills to avoid and stop bullying, identifying areas of need for teens in the community, and learning how to impact other positively. According to Ruhter, all aspects of the program focus on creating relationships, mentoring and teaching students to take charge of their future and surroundings and believing that each person can make a difference in their community and in the life of others.

South Kelso Neighborhood Association
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Since it formation in 2013, the South Kelso Neighborhood Association (SKNA) has taken an active role in helping to beautify Kelso. The group reached an agreement with the City of Kelso earlier this year, allowing SKNA to use the city’s old finance building for meetings and storage rent-free. It is raising money to maintain the building and pay utilities. To date, SKNA members have painted over the graffiti on 30 alley walls, and partnered with AmeriCorps to host an alley clean-up day. The group is planting flowers and shrubs under the Allen Street Bridge, and plans to create a neighborhood watch group and start a neighborhood garden.

Highlands Community Center
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The updated and remodeled Highlands Community Center opened to the public late last year. Nearly $100,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds paid for the renovations that included adding ADA-accessible ramps and bathrooms, new floors, plumbing, wiring, and paint. The Highlands Neighborhood Association purchased the 1200 sq.ft. home in 2013, moved in for awhile, and then closed it for several months so it could be revamped. More improvements are planned for the future including a new roof and fixing up the garage which is located on an adjacent lot. The Highlands Community Center serves as a free library complete with computers, hosts an after-school program and serves as a gathering place for meetings, community groups and classes.

Mental Health Court
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With a goal of preventing mentally troubled offenders from getting into more serious trouble by getting them in contact with mental health providers, Cowlitz County commissioners approved the hiring of a mental health court coordinator last year. The coordinator works with clients with mental disorders who face misdemeanor charges and whose cases are handled through District Court. Mental Health Court is a voluntary 24-month program that promotes both treatment and public safety. Eligible participants receive intensive case management that includes mental health and chemical dependency treatment, finding suitable housing and acquiring general medical care. Upon graduation, participants will have their charges reduced or dismissed. The program helps participants improve their sense of self worth, connect with community resources, find a lasting sense of contentedness and feel accountable to their community. Impact on the community comes in the form of reduced repeat criminal offenders, improved public safety, increased communication between the justice system and wellness agencies, better allocated community resources and a more effective alternative to traditional prosecution and incarceration of non-violent offenders.