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Jewish World Review
Nov. 15, 2012/ 29 Tishrei, 5773
Better than first 100 houses? The second!
It worked once. So we're doing it again.
We are gathering a small army, fortified with plywood, ladders, nails and hope. We are gathering to do battle Oct..27, on a Saturday morning. The enemy has many members, all ugly and foreboding, decayed on the outside, dark and dangerous on the inside.
But they can be tamed.
And they will be.
Just pick up that nail gun.
Our army is called the 100 Houses project, and in August, thanks to you, it successfully boarded up more than 100 abandoned homes in a single day around Osborn High School in Detroit.
This time, with the Free Press among the organizations supporting the effort as part of a Make a Difference Day of community service, we are aiming for 150 houses, all in the vicinity of Cody High. It is one of the worst and most concentrated sections of abandoned homes in Detroit. Dozens and dozens of rotting, perilously open houses lurk like sitting vultures in the immediate blocks between city bus stops and the high school's front doors.
It wasn't always this way. Kenyetta Campbell graduated from Cody in 1991. Back then, she recalled, "The houses were occupied, there were home owners, families outside, especially around the school. Now, when I walk through the neighborhood, there's a lot of vacant homes with doors wide open, windows wide open. It's scary."
Scary is for Halloween.
Kenyetta, 39, moved back to her old neighborhood after earning a degree at Eastern Michigan. Married and the mother of three young children, she lives two minutes from her alma matter.
"My 7-year-old daughter already says to me, 'Mommy, I want to go to Cody.'"
She likely will. But her trip to school should not be a trail of terror. Imagine walking past one abandoned house after another, seeing drug users on the porch, a man and a woman ducking into the back, or worse, a figure staring out at you as you pass.
Last year, Kenyetta says, a teenage girl was sexually assaulted in one of the abandoned structures not far from Cody. It rattled the neighborhood -- even one as used to crime as this one. As the executive director of the Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance, Kenyetta sought to create partnerships with patrol groups and block clubs to put a presence on the street looking out for danger.
The problem is how do you spot danger when it has so many places to hide?
This is where you come in. Every abandoned house you help board up is one less place for drug dealers to gather, or prostitutes to conduct business, or those wishing to do harm to children to seek a cover of darkness.
No, this is not the long-range answer to dangerous streets. It is simply the answer for right now. First, make the streets safe, then make them sound. It may not be as pretty as gentrifying an area with pretty new homes and small businesses, but if we don't ensure our kids can at least walk to school without fear of attack, very soon, there won't be anybody left to save those neighborhoods for.
"We are so grateful," says Kenyetta, whose group, and several others, will work right beside us.
The idea for 100 Houses was born a few months ago. I had read about a man boarding up dozens of houses in his Detroit neighborhood because he was fed up with the lack of progress. I thought, if one man can do that, what if we could galvanize hundreds?
The August 100 Houses event proved we could. It was an amazing day, with about 450 people spreading around the neighborhood, sometimes to the applause of amazed citizens, cutting plywood, nailing it in place, cleaning the lots, locking down back doors.
And throughout the day, you couldn't tell city from suburbs. Just a beautiful, massive volunteer effort. We want to squeeze one more in before the winter makes it impossible. We will gather at Cody at 9:30 a.m. There will be Starbucks, T-shirts, lunch, vans for transportation. Mostly there will be city spirit on great display, thanks to the likes of the Detroit Media Partnership, Gannett Foundation, Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries, Mayor Dave Bing's office, Detroit Public Schools, Rock Ventures, Quicken Loans, Valvoline Instant Oil Change, Carhartt, Belfor, Mosher & Associates, Motor City Blight Busters, AmeriCorps, Shield's Pizza, Re-Construction, Home Depot, Tamer Plumbing and my A Time to Help charity.
If you can barely swing a hammer, sign up anyhow. If you can lead a team in boarding, sign up as a crew leader. If you have equipment to clear the overgrowth, man can we use you! Call 866-992-GIVE or sign up at drmm.org.
It's a war, but with a guaranteed winning feeling. That's the kind you can't wait to fight. See you on the 27th.
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