Watchdogs To Newhaville: Keep The Byrne

Thomas Breen PhotoNewhallville is on the path to safe neighborhood success; it just has to keep doing what it’s doing and hold “partners” accountable.

That charge and the challenge came from a watchdog organization tasked with providing the neighborhood technical assistance — and if necessary, some tough love — in the implementation of a federal crime reduction grant.

A year after the beginning of implementation of the $1 million federal grant to make Newhallville a safer place, a program manager and advisor from the Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) paid a visit to New Haven to learn what’s working.

On Thursday, the more than two dozen neighborhood activists who have played a role in changing the narrative of Newhallville from “dangerous” to “safe” were able to say a year later things are different. The neighborhood is safer.

Markeshia Ricks PhotoMatt Perkins, senior project manager for LISC, and program advisor James Stark got a tour of the neighborhood, particularly the known “hot spots” of Read, Starr-Hazel streets and Dixwell Avenue before they sat down to meet with the group on Dixwell Avenue Thursday for about two hours.

Stark and Perkins said they could see the change with their own eyes. They were here when Newhallville first received the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant (now called the “Innovations in Community Based Crime Reductions” grant) from the U.S. Department of Justice four years ago. (There was a 30-month preparation period prior to the grant’s first year of implementation starting in 2017.)

Back then, violent crime was rampant, absentee landlords and slum properties were dragging down neighborhood streets, and community-police relations were in a low place. And community leaders were at war with the Harp administration about how the grant should be spent. (Read here about how that feud flares up from time to time.)

From the murals on the Farmington Canal and the tremendous placemaking created by the Learning Corridor to the decrease in gun violence and a new sense of collaboration between the police and the community, things are looking up in Newhallville. And that’s thanks to the grant many said Thursday.

Hotspot to Bright Spot

Since grant money started flowing in Newhallville crime is down, according to a first-year annual report about the Safe Neighborhood Initiative drafted by researchers from the University of New Haven.

From July 2017 to July 2018 violent gun crimes such as robbery with a firearm and assault with a firearm were down more in Newhallville than they were for New Haven as a whole. Those specific crimes were down 54.5 percent and 55.6 percent, respectively, in Newhallville, while down only 17.9 percent and 3.1 percent for the city as a whole.

Outgoing Byrne grant coordinator Arthur Edwards attributed that to more youth engagement, including a Youth Police Initiative to bridge the gap between the police and young people in the community. There also was a major push with the help of the grant to make sure that kids had access to summer camps and other activities. Other efforts included finding jobs for young people in the community and funding a “Youth Ambassador” program so that young people could get paid for helping to keep the neighborhood safe.

Edwards also attributed the change to partnerships with organizations like Project Longevity and canvassing the neighborhood regularly to share information. And working with neighborhood cops to step up surveillance specifically in the hotspots in the neighborhood. The city’s anti-blight agency, Livable City Initiative also works more closely with the police to stay on top of out-of-town landlords so their properties don’t drag down the neighborhood, or create hotbeds of criminal activity.

Alder Delphine Clyburn said that R,ead Street is fast becoming one of her favorite streets in the neighborhood.

“Read Street now is better,” she said. “You don’t feel danger like we used to. And when I see children riding their little scooters down Read Street I’m grateful for the grant, what it did and what it is doing for the community.”

YouthStat Newhallville

Christopher Peak PhotoGrant money was used most dramatically to fund a spin-off of the city’s YouthStat program to create YouthStat I and YouthStat II, which focuses specifically on two groups of underserved groups deemed “at-risk” in Newhallville. YouthStat I serves school-age children, while YouthStat II focuses on those 17 to 26 who have had some contact with the criminal justice system.

Youth Stat II has 17 participants, and its coordinator Baba Jide Davis said that only two of those young men have reoffended. He also noted that the majority of them had received some sort of job certification through Gateway Community College and the rest were working on a certification or enrolled in a program at ConnCAT.

“That’s tremendous work,” Stark said.

Edward said one of the things that the neighborhood initiative has been active in doing is intervening when there is some kind of technical violation of a condition of release such as paying restitution. He said not only has he and his staff gone to court on behalf of the young men but created a matching fund program to help them save the money needed to pay. Stark liked the idea and suggested that partners look for a way to sustain it.

Of the two young men who returned to incarceration, Edwards said the initiative hasn’t forgotten their families.

“We still reach out to the families,” he said.

Mending Fences

Stephen Cremin-Endes, Neighborhood Housing Services director of community building and organizing, said that a year and a half ago he and Clyburn had a discussion that he said “went sideways.” But during this first year of implementation, they have been able to work more collaboratively.

Nonprofit NHS focuses on gut rehabs of blighted property to increase opportunities for homeownership. It also focuses on environmental improvements such as installing rain gardens and murals along the Farmington Canal. Byrne grant money helped pay for the murals.

Clyburn said she passionately advocated that money from the Byrne grant be spent by Newhallville and in Newhallville. And she said she’s pleased that for the most part that has happened. Stark said one of the things that LISC does is makes sure that the money is spent exactly in that way and he praised Clyburn for being that voice.

“That’s exactly what we want,” he said.

Edwards has said getting neighborhood organizations to work more collaboratively and not duplicate services was a key goal of what needed to happen with the grant. Collaboration, he said, is the name of the game.

“We still have our issues,” Edwards said. “We don’t always agree but we can go into a room and come out with a way forward.”

Program Advisor Starks said the Newhallville initiatives has all the ingredients for a successful program—great leadership and great partnerships.

“Many sites don’t have either one,” he said. “You’re blessed to have both and can expect success if you keep it up. There have been a number of things highlighted that could be a model for our other sites.”

Program Manager Perkins challenged the partners to hold each other accountable for the work and keep looking for gaps in services and ways to improve.

“The sites that maintain their success are the ones that keep working together after the money is gone,” he said.

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posted by: WorkForGood on December 1, 2018  10:29am

Good work, great results! Shows what informed, focused effort can achieve. Congratulations to all involved.

posted by: Kermit Carolina on December 1, 2018  1:20pm

Big shout-out to all of the grassroots leaders in Newhallville who appear (and do not appear) in this article!  Some of your great work in the dark has found its way to the light.  As real life superheroes and sheroes you provide hope and inspiration to many (especially “...the least of thee…”) during these challenging times. May God keep you humbled and blessed as you continue working together to uplift underserved children and families.

posted by: robn on December 1, 2018  6:10pm

It would be very informative to see a breakdown of how much money was spent in what ways and into whose hands the money went.