Community organizations take up slack of local government
By Marcus Wright
Special to the Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Community-based neighborhood organizations are responding with innovative practices to the foreclosure and crime crises that have eroded Detroit neighborhoods. Community organizations are increasingly taking on the work traditionally done by local government or individual homeowners.
“We take a comprehensive approach to community revitalization, with programs designed to renovate vacant homes, assist local homeowners and businesses, beautify our community and keep our neighbourhood safe and vibrant,” Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation (GRDC) Executive Director Tom Goddeeris said.
The GRDC represents five communities on the west side of the city: North Rosedale Park, Rosedale Park, Grandmont, Grandmont No. 1 and Minock Park. The GRDC is a non-profit, community-based organization working to preserve and improve the Grandmont Rosedale neighborhoods of northwest Detroit, according to its Web site.
GRDC is a new model. Instead of letting abandoned or foreclosed property languish, GRDC buys and renovates the property to resell. For example, this year, GRDC bought and renovated a 2,400 square foot, stone house in Detroit and put on the market for $135,000. By buying and fixing property, the neighborhood association is able to boost home values in the area and stabilize the neighborhood.
Detroit has a large number organizations working to better the city’s embattled neighborhoods, with many variations in terms of size and organizational structure. Some are formally incorporated, with a written constitution and a board of directors, while others — usually referred to as block clubs — are much smaller and more informal.
Kim Jackson is president of the Northeastern District Community Relations and the Goddard Block Club. Jackson said the NDCR exists to keep the community informed. “Although (providing information) is our primary goal, we also board up vacant houses, clean up vacant lots and check on elderly neighbors,” Kim Jackson told the Michigan Citizen.
NDCR has not organized a citizen patrol, but interacts with Goddard Block Club’s patrol and other citizen patrols in the area, she said.
She added that her organization has not received a great deal of support from local government. According to Kim Jackson, the reason is because the city has budgetary constraints and the Lansing politicians “don’t live here.”
“We ask the local officials to board up houses. They don’t pick up the trash,” she said. “We clean and pile — you can at least pick it up.”
Healthy Neighborhoods Detroit (HND), initiated by St. John Providence Health System, is not a traditional community organization. Executive Director Cassandra Jackson said the mission of HND is to build a 21st century solution for an improved system of community health on the east side of Detroit. She said HND is linking investment in healthcare and safety, healthy communities and environments in a manner that supports transformation of the economy of Detroit.
“HND was organized in 2009 to transform the communities around three former hospital campuses, located on the east side of Detroit — St. John Riverview hospital (now called Riverview Health & Rehabilitation Center), St. John Conner Creek Village (formerly called Holy Cross Hospital) and Samaritan Center (sponsored by Boysville of Michigan and SER Metro-Detroit,” Cassandra Jackson said. “HND is committed to working collaboratively with various community groups and organizations surrounding each campus towards creating healthy, safe communities and environments.”
HND has an active board of directors, comprised of 11 members each holding varying positions in healthcare, nonprofit, government and church organizations.
Pingree Park Association (PPA), also representing the city’s east side, is relatively new. Its members are from the neighborhoods located between Seminole and Burns and Mack and Gratiot. PPA President Chris Rabaut said the primary purpose of the organization is to unite residents to take care of their community.
“We have organized a spring and autumn clean up,” Rabaut said. “(We) boarded houses (and) assisted Greening of Detroit in planting trees, flowers and a garden.”
Rabaut said PPA has not organized a citizen patrol, although there has been discussion regarding doing so.
Goddeeris said GRDC does not have a citizen patrol, but all of the neighborhoods it represents have citizen patrols. “We help the various neighborhood block watch to be more effective,” Goddeeris said. “We (GRDC) hold a monthly meeting. The police come and have the opportunity to talk to all of the groups at one meeting. It is more efficient and, with more numbers, influential.”
HND has a neighborhood patrol. Cassandra Jackson said it works in partnership with the MAN (Maintaining a Neighborhood) Network. The MAN Network is a collaborative effort of churches in the Osborn community to create a network of men who will take a responsible role in the community to provide safety, structure and support. The Network patrols a 75-block target area surrounding St. John Conner Creek Village.
“Patrol logs and crime trend data support the effectiveness of the program,” she said. “There are 12 active volunteers, comprised of block club organizations, CB patrol, etc. that have been trained and certified as MAN patrollers.
Also, Cassandra Jackson said, the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department is actively involved and provides formalized trainings to the patrollers. “The Detroit Police Department (DPD) Northeastern District is working with our organization to tackle the issues of vacant, open and dangerous properties within our community,” she says.
Rabaut said PPA relies more on the community. “During our clean-up campaign, churches in the neighborhood donated money for a dumpster,” Rabaut said. “And although local government entities are strapped for cash, some elected officials help. Commissioner Jewel Ware has helped us very much.”
Deputy Chief Melvin Turner is responsible for community services. He said his department has a working relationship with 20 or more citizen patrols operating in the city.
He called the patrols an effective, valuable resource. “They provide information to the community and to the police that helps to make the city safe,” Turner said. “If they see a crime in progress, they call 911 and a dispatcher sends a car to investigate.”
Turner said citizen patrols have relationships with the district in which they operate, as well as central command. “The bond is more personal with the district than with central command because the volunteers interact more with officers from the district, whereas there are regular meetings with central command,” he says.
Chief Turner added that a citizen patrol can be organized in any community by soliciting 12 members and applying to the state for a name registration. Once that is completed, the registered group submits the names to the Detroit Police Department for a background check. “When the background check is completed, the organization receives training and becomes the eyes and ears of the community,” Turner said.
Most of the citizen patrols are on the west side of the city, according to Turner. “We need more on the east side,” he said. “We’re encouraging residents on the east side to organize but the population is either elderly or younger.”
Any community interested in organizing a citizen patrol should call 313.224.3945 or stop by the Rosa Parks Transit Center first floor police sub station for more information.
A listing of the aforementioned organizations follows:Northeastern District Community Relations: firstname.lastname@example.org and 313.5300303. Healthy Neighborhoods Detroit: 313.369.5783 or 313.369.5600 and www.healthyneighborhoodsdet.com or http://detroitneighborhoodhealthandsafety.wordpress.com Pingree Park Association: 313.886.3370 and email@example.com Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation: 313.387.4732 and firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact Marcus Wright at email@example.com