Cody Hoerning and Andrew Norton, Southeast Como Improvement Association (SECIA), presented a neighborhood proposal for increasing neighborhood social cohesiveness. Strong neighborhoods are best able to respond to neighbors in need.
Members of SECIA have been rethinking SECIA’s role as a community organization, as a neighborhood organization and as a platform to promote cohesiveness in the community.
Conversations began over several years at various community gatherings like National Night Out. Neighbors and elected officials shared ideas about how people can expand the sense of community that we feel on NNO and other neighborhood-wide events. In 2020, after the death of George Floyd, protests turned into riots, and neighborhood conversations about public safety and other issues became intentional.
In October 2020, people began brainstorming about how this could come together. They brought their ideas to “New Projects Night”, an event where SECIA members present proposals to develop proposals and gauge interest. In breakout meetings they discussed the logistics of moving this forward.
Identifying Issues and Challenges: Neighbors in Need
- Lack of social connection
- Mental health issues
- Unsheltered neighbors (homelessness)
Lack of social connection: In Como, residents are increasingly concerned about lack of connectivity. This is more apparent in SE Como than in other parts of the city because of the high numbers of student neighbors, who intentionally leave at graduation when they find a career job.
But this is a national trend. In his book “The Upswing” Robert Putnam defined “Social Solidarity” as an aggregate of trust, sharing, caring, donating and joining that communities share. From 1880 to 2020, indicators of social solidarity started low, peaked 1955-1965, and then fell faster than it had risen. In 2020, American solidarity had fallen to the 1910 level. Not surprisingly, the “Lack of Social Connection” chart has almost a negative correlation to the first chart over the same time span. The second data set was derived by charting so-called Deaths of Despair, deaths associated with depression, alcohol use, other substance abuse. On the right side of the chart, you see a sharp rise in deaths attributed to cocaine (and similar) use (2000 and on) and Covid-19 in 2020.
The group identified some issues that SE Como has with the traditional block club model. The highly transient student population has been mentioned. Additionally, people’s comments could be summarized as “I don’t watch my neighbors, I just see them”. People reported they feel safe if they perceive a connected community and they feel safer on “active streets”. Van Cleve Park is perceived as a safe place because of everything that’s going on there.
For background, data reported by the National Institutes of Mental Health, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported in 2017 that at least 432,161 adults in Minnesota experienced serious psychological distress in the 12 months surveyed. This included 256,729 with serious psychological distress, 119,807 with bipolar disorder, and 12,836 with schizophrenia. Some people have multiple diagnosis; additionally, there is overlap with people who are homeless and who engage in substance abuse. All of these issues were adversely affected by the pandemic; the 2020 statistics are certainly higher.
Growing concerns: In Minnesota, between 1991 and 2018, a one-night count of homeless people rose from 3,079 to 11,371, statewide.
[EQ: in 2017, Minnesota’s population was 5.6 million people; SE Como’s population was about 6000 people. Projecting the numbers, 4.6% of MN residents displayed serious psychological distress. 0.2% were homeless. Those counts are pre-Covid-19. Undoubtedly more people are in distress in 2020-21.]
IDENTIFYING ISSUES AND CHALLENGES: NEIGHBORHOOD ORGANIZATION
- SECIA does not really have a safety group.
- Many crimes in SE Como are preventable, following recommended practices. Cody worked with CPS Nick Juarez sharing after-incident prevention strategies.
- Victims of crime reported that they received little follow up, restitution, or justice:
- MPD data indicate that about 1 in 3 violent crimes are cleared.
- MPD data indicate that 1 in 2 homicides are cleared.
[EQ: A crime report is “cleared” when investigation leads to a charge.]
What can a Neighborhood Organization Role Be? Assuming the Neighborhood Organization has developed a cohesive social structure, it can assist:
Pre-crime: The association can help with prevention by coaching awareness of safety strategies, and the importance of watching out for each other. It can consider if a welfare strategy might be needed.
Crime event: handled by police.
Post-crime: The association can offer support and improve safety strategies if there is recurrence.
There is evidence that support does matter, even in extreme situations.
Homelessness: A 2013 report in the American Journal of Public Health, “Effectiveness of case management for homeless persons”, by Renee de Vet, (v. 103:10, 13-26) indicated that case management to prevent recurrent homelessness in people with severe mental health illness after leaving hospitals or other shelters led to a 60% reduction of homelessness.
Gun Violence: Advance Peace and similar programs identify and then surround a small number of people with intensive customized support found that after a two-year program, all “A-P Zones” reported a 22% reduction in gun assaults and homicides. El Paso Heights AP Zone reported a 39% and the Oak Park AP Zone reported a 21% reduction.
Social Determinants of Health: These are conditions that occur in the environments in which people are born, live, and age, that affect health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. They include economic stability, education, social and community context, health and health care, neighborhood or built environment. Como Cares believes it can work in two primary areas:
- Neighborhood or built environment, including access to healthy foods, crime and violence, environmental conditions, quality of housing.
- Social and community context, including civic participation, discrimination, incarceration, social cohesion.
SECIA has already done a lot to improve social and community context. We offer the annual Como Cookout, gardening opportunities (native prairie, pollinator protection, vegetable gardens in SE COMO), participation in SE Seniors (an age-in-place volunteer organization that assists SE Minneapolis residents), Community Good Neighbor Fund (which supports music, art and dance events), community projects and town halls with elected leaders, coordination with the MPD Second Precinct Crime Prevention Specialist, an active Zoning and Development Committee, pollution and groundwater protection committees, and activism through Como Green Village. The new Como Cares approach will continue to bolster these efforts.
Our current approach in SE Como to organizing and public safety is not working for a variety of reasons.
- Community members feel safe when they have a network of support and are connected with neighbors.
- Mutual-aid networks and events/projects to build community connectedness were popular in discussions.
- We now have more neighbors who need help with mental health and shelter.
Actions to date and on-going:
- Neighborhood and Community Relations meetings on safety
- Team members have attended city meetings about safety
- Activist and outreach worker meetings
- Team members have attended meetings and presentations by organizations like LINC MPD150, Coaching Boys Into Men
- Coordinated with organizations which already help unsheltered neighbors in Mpls. [listed below]
- Distribution of food and hygiene kits
- Supported and organized a local neighbor drop in day
Some of the organizations the Como Cares team is currently collaborating with include U of MN Off Campus Living, University Baptist Church, University Lutheran Church of Hope, SECIA, First Congregational Church — United Church of Christ, The Aliveness Project (future date for harm reduction training)
COMO CARES — CURRENT GOALS
1. Reach out to long-time and new neighbors to let them know they are a part of a caring community.
Some long term residents may not have as many connections as they would like. We want to also reach out to short term residents, like students, and try to bring them into the conversation.
2. Care for neighborhood community assets and resources.
This can range from sharing food and other resources, doing trash cleanups, making sure the street lights are on, finding resources to help with property repair.
3. Provide neighbors in need with direct community support through a network of block/neighborhood communityassistance programs.
4. Bring a community-centric and racial justice approach to public safety and reduce calls for service from the police department.a. As we build healthy social structures, provide support for neighbors, we could reduce police presence in the area.
b. This is taking the MPD150 idea to a neighborhood level. [For information about MDP150, see https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=MPD150]
LEVELS OF ENGAGEMENT
Entry Level – Be a part of a caring community. Build organic social cohesion on your block. Stay connected to neighbors.
Time commitment = low
Example: take a walk with a neighbor.
Event-Level – Respond when available and when help is needed locally for specific events
Time commitment = low
Example: shovel your neighbor’s walk if they need help with it.
Project- level – Support for specific longer-term projects
Time commitment = moderate
Example: Weekly park activities with local teens.
Team level – Participating in long-term care initiatives
Time commitment = high
Example: Supporting unsheltered neighbors through regularly-scheduled drop-in days
Leader level – Communicating with neighbors, understanding hyperlocal needs and coordinating response
Time commitment = very high
Example: Neighbor communicates need after kitchen fire, works with team on response, facilitates response.
OTHER ENGAGEMENT OPTIONS: Some individuals are unable to give their time due to commitments. Other ways to support include:
Donations of goods to people in need.
Administrative and communication support.
COMMUNICATIONS: How will we communicate with neighbors?
- Personal verbal communication:
- Say “Hi!” when you see someone
- Written communication:
- Write for E-Comotion and Tidbits
- Social media
- Groupme, messenger, discord, Facebook….
- Assemble and deliver welcome packets to new neighbors
- Apartment buildings: we need ideas for outreach into apartment buildings.
Como Cares needs ideas for recognition gear.
How will people recognize us as a team (suggestions: t-shirts, vests?)
[EQ: Jeremiah Peterson’s Safety Walk teams had bright red vests to ID walk members. Those vests disappeared several years ago. Maybe someone with institutional memory can recall who paid for them.]
TRAINING – What types of training should we offer Como Cares team members?
First Aid Anti-ViolenceAnti-Racism
Harm reduction 101
Como Cares, current and future projects:In Progress Now:
- Building team and networking
- Drop-in days for unsheltered neighbors
- Hygiene and food kit delivery to those in need
A story about the successful first Drop-In Day, a Como Cares event, appeared in the MN Daily newspaper: https://mndaily.com/266140/news/dinkytown-organizations-offer-haircuts-and-more-to-unsheltered-neighbors/
Caring for public utilities (gardens, street lights, litter pick up)
More social cohesion events and New social cohesion events. Offer your ideas here
SE Como mutual aid network in development:
Mental health and trauma-support events
What Questions do you have? Send them to Emilie to forward to Andrew and Cody. We’ll get the answers to you.
QQ Do you have any funding for this? Answer: We have written two grants, one to the Good Neighbor Fund supported by the U of MN, and one to AARP which offers a challenge grant. The first Drop-In Day brought donations of skills and time (hair cuts) as well as supplies, clothing, food.The city has opened up some anti-violence funding.
QQ Have you contacted Hennepin County about your project. AA: Good idea! Please suggest people to contact.
QQ An attender remarked she had gotten a lot of help from Commissioner Irene Fernando and recommended meeting with her. Would you be interested in presenting to another n’hood? Answer: Yes, eventually. We’re only about 5 months in so far.
QQ Next drop in days? Answer: We’re going to try to rotate locations. We have a need for showers, which University Baptist may be able to offer so that will be a place. U of MN and the Parks have Covid-19 restrictions right now but those will be lifted eventually.
QQ How do you let the homeless people know about these Drop-in events? Answer: There are parishioners in some of the churches that work directly with the homeless. We went out to some of the sites and gave out information. We also know of some of the homeless in Dinkytown and just gave them the information. Also, The Aliveness Project does outreach and we know some people in that organization.
Como Cares will be doing a Harm Reduction workshop with Aliveness in the near future. Cody will try to get that info out to us.
QQ: What is “social solidarity”? Answer: Cody: There are books on this, but it’s basically “connectedness”. It’s when you give of yourself to the greater whole. Andrew: It’s how individuals come together to enhance each other’s lives. [Referencing the studies Cody showed] There was a peak in the ’70’s and then it started declining. It’s really hard to create social solidarity in our area because of the high student-transient population. We’re trying to rebuild the solidarity the n’hoods had back then [in the 70’s]. The way we’re trying to do that is reaching out to bring together.
Cody: After the George Floyd event, we saw a lot of people popup and come together. People started to ask how neighbors can keep this going.
QQ: [Response to statement that in the University District, two-bedroom apartments are rented to four people. The population is more than a bedroom count if you want to know how many students are living there.] How do you know how to contact all these people? Answer: Andrew: That’s what we’re working on. We try to find a person in this [apartment] community to bring others together and create a larger community. Cody: we hear about people who have roommates going through a crisis and the contact person wants to know what to do to help. If we can have the “tools” for appropriate response, hopefully we won’t have to bring in the city. We’ve had some success with welcome packets in the past, but need a fresher approach. CPS Juarez: We get information to property managers and train staff to watch for “behavior change” or other markers; especially at mid-terms or finals. Offer information for the tenant who comes in and wants to know what to do about someone who is changing. If nothing else, a concerned person can contact MPD/CPS on behalf of that student. We’ll go with protective services and take it from there.
Emilie Quast, Board member
MPD Second Precinct Advisory Council
Minneapolis MN 55418