From Hopeless to Hopeful: How neighborhoods walks are transforming one Southeast neighborhood

There’s a lot to be said for seeing and being seen, especially as it relates to strengthening neighborhoods. That’s what Fort Wayne UNITED has done with the launch of its TenPoint Coalition and neighborhood walks in the Oxford Community Association area, on the Southeast side of town. 

Nationwide, homicide is the leading cause of death among African-American males ages 10-24, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, and this local neighborhood is not immune from those challenges, according to Fort Wayne UNITED’s Program Manager Iric Headley.

However, in light of these statistics, residents often feel like there's nothing they can do, Headley explains.

"From what we’ve seen here and across the country, residents don't feel like they can be a part of the solution," he says. "They're fed up. They’re hopeless.”

To give residents a way to get involved in a solution, members of Fort Wayne's TenPoint Coalition, known as the Foot Patrol, walk the neighborhood at strategic hours of the night, usually between 6 p.m. to midnight, Tuesday through Saturday. The idea is that a physical presence can deter crime, Headley says.

TenPoint Coalition's Foot Patrol

“The mission is to really engage the community, and to improve the quality of life while addressing the root causes of violence,” he explains. “What that allows us to do is to build relationships in that community—the way it should be done—by engagement. A strong presence in the neighborhood will, in turn, help them and neighborhoods to really change their view on crime."

Headley says the walks have already reached people in a meaningful way because they go beyond the surface level. As the rate of violent crimes has been tied to perceived lack of opportunity, the TenPoint Coalition and its partners are investing in changing the landscape of neighborhoods, too.

Modeled after the successful Indianapolis TenPoint Coalition, Fort Wayne’s program has implemented proactive strategies to improve life outcomes, increase the quality of life, and enhance community pride. Areas of focus include education, health, and housing. 

Perhaps most significantly, the TenPoint Coalition now recruits people from the neighborhood to join the cause. They have already funded 40 positions that pay a livable wage. Many of these neighborhood ambassadors were once caught up in the cycle of crime themselves and decided to make a change, Headley says.

Pastor Lewis King is leading the street team to reach people in the Oxford Street neighborhood area.

Overall, the walks help pastors from both inner city and suburban churches and community members alike walk side by side, metaphorically and literally, to connect with residents and maintain a consistent presence in the area. Headley says this approach has already yielded results because people tend to trust people who they perceive to be like themselves.

“When they meet young people who are still living a life of crime, they are able to let them know, 'Hey, you can be like me one day and change your lifestyle. There are a lot of opportunities out there,'" Headley says. "Then we're able to connect them to those opportunities.”

For example, the coalition might refer a person out of work to a job fair. A family might be in need of accessing social services or mental health counseling. Or maybe they just need someone to listen, Headley explains.

In an area where people feel marginalized and often unheard, these front-line efforts are critical to affecting change. 

"What we've been doing is just engaging and getting input on what needs to be done how we need to do it," he says. "That’s what everybody agrees on—why crime happens.”

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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