Neighbors take action against crime, abandoned homes

(WISH Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Thursday night, local nonprofit NEAR, or Near East Area Renewal, will host a forum to explain to St. Clair Place neighbors how to flight blight and crime.

Many of the homes in St. Clair Place, just east of downtown, used to be vacant, but now people are moving in. NEAR is targeting the area, working to revitalize it.

“Our commitment is to bring this neighborhood around, to try and demonstrate what can happen in an urban neighborhood, where there is good investment and good coordination helping neighbors who buy these houses to learn to be good neighbors,” said NEAR executive director John Hay.

Many people who live in St. Clair Place call it a neighborhood in transition.

“As with any urban neighborhood, especially one in transition, there’s all kinds of crime. There’s issues with abandoned houses, this area has more than its fair share probably,” said Andy Austin, who has lived in the neighborhood for four years.

But when Austin moved in, 40 percent of the homes in the neighborhood sat abandoned, according to NEAR. Now that number is shrinking as the non-profit buys, renovates and re-sells homes and people like Austin move in. So far, NEAR said it has developed 75 homes in the area.

“They come into the neighborhood, they see what’s going on, and they want to be a part of it,” said Austin.

Austin has taken charge of neighborhood cleanups and reporting crimes. Simple things experts say encourage investment in a neighborhood.

“When neighbors are dealing with high weeds, tall grass, trash, trash in the back of the properties, abandoned properties and vacant land there’s all kinds of things that happen that really create blight. There are phone calls that can be made, actions that can be taken and neighbors need to know what’s possible for them as they fight back,” said Hay.

“I think one of the neat things about this neighborhood is that it’s extremely diverse. You have folks that have lived here 30-40 years,” said Austin.

People like Ruth Shaw, who started the neighborhood crime watch 40 years ago.

“We had walkie talkies and then men would patrol at night,” remembered Shaw.

In all that time, Shaw hasn’t stopped working to keep her neighborhood safe by getting rid of vacant homes.

“It invites crime and shows that people don’t care when you have a bunch of vacant houses that obviously no one cares for,” said Shaw.

So she keeps nearby yards and alleys clean, calls code enforcement when the grass is too high and gets to know area police officers before she needs them.

“It’s just the simple things of everybody working together and really caring that makes it work,” said Shaw.

Now Austin has taken the torch, even leading an effort to take down a drug house on his block. After years of documenting and reporting problems, he says police raided the home.

“You feel great when it’s done, because this is going to be a single family home. It’s going to add to the block as opposed to being a detriment,” said Austin.

“I’ve always said, ‘C’mon, I’m not going to be here forever. There’s gotta be more people coming up doing this. And it’s just wonderful to see these younger people come in and really take hold,” said Shaw.

The meeting is open to the public, even if you don’t live in St. Clair Place. Anyone can attend the meeting and learn ways to fight blight in their own neighborhood. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Chase Community Room at the John H. Boner Community Center.

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