After spending two years studying the roots of crime in a handful of north Baton Rouge neighborhoods, East Baton Rouge Parish officials are rolling out a number of community programs they hope will help.
As dozens of children shot hoops Monday evening with police officers and jumped rope at BREC’s Saia Park on Donmoor Avenue, Gail Grover, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden’s assistant chief administrator, explained the six programs being launched in the Istrouma, Midtown, Eden Park, Greenville Extension, Smiley Heights and Melrose East neighborhoods.
A series of four-week employment preparedness seminars, a pair of after-school programs, a free legal clinic addressing run-down properties and blight, and programs designed to boost residents’ ability to lobby with city leaders are among the initiatives being funded by a roughly $1 million U.S. Department of Justice grant, Grover said.
The city-parish received the grant in 2014 but spent the first two years studying and canvassing the neighborhoods and holding study groups to get residents’ views on what’s driving high crime rates in the area.
The answer researchers heard? High levels of unemployment, a lack of programming for children, and a need for stronger community organizations, Grover said, leading those working on the grant to propose six strategies to address some of the issues challenging the neighborhoods. City-parish officials are holding a series of three family fun nights at parks in the targeted neighborhoods to explain the programs. The third and final event is at 4 p.m. Wednesday in BREC’s Gus Young Park.
Grover said the programs focus on many of the same impoverished areas targeted by other grants, including a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhood planning grant, and programs like Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination , an anti-crime initiative. Taken together, Grover said, the grants should offer a “holistic approach” to tackling the roots of crime and poverty in the neighborhoods, which largely lie in the 70802 and 70805 ZIP code areas.
But several of the roughly 30 residents at Monday’s presentation expressed initial skepticism at the latest initiatives.
“I’m tired of the money coming through here and us ending up worse off,” said Pearl Porter, who lives in the Istrouma neighborhood.
Porter said she’s seen lots of revitalization efforts during her 43 years in the neighborhood, only to watch as local public schools closed and crime climbed.
“And look where we’re at,” Porter said. “We’ve heard this so many times. At the end of this grant, we need to see some changes.”
Hazel Bradley Averhart, who lives around the corner from Porter, said she’s hoping the latest grant might offer a chance to connect residents with some of the programs designed to help them.
Margo Wilson and Anthony Wright, who own a construction and janitorial services company near Saia Park, both said they’re hopeful the latest set of initiatives could have a positive effect on the area.
“The fact that they’re starting to come over this way is great,” said Wilson. “But now that they’ve talked about it, we want to see it.”
Grover said the first round of programs — including after-school courses focused on black history and empowering youth at New Hope Baptist Church and Friendship Capitol High School — started earlier this month. A summer program for children still is in its planning stages, but Grover said other programs — like seminars led by Employ BR offering help on landing a job — are scheduled to launch soon.
The roughly $800,000 in remaining grant funding should cover the cost of programs for about two years, Grover said.
Follow Bryn Stole on Twitter, @BrynStole.