Homewood building its own safety net

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In September, Community Empowerment Association CEO Rashad Byrdsong told the New Pittsburgh Courier that the Homewood Community would have to show some self-reliance because “Superman is not coming to save us” and help address the problems that led to a rash of gun violence at the time.

He said that after key political and financial entities failed to come to a scheduled meeting on the matter.

What a difference two months makes.

With stakeholder representatives, and residents coordinating needs and service delivery and eliminating repetition, Byrdsong says Homewood is creating community advisory boards and councils that can deal with foundations and the incoming Peduto administration from the ground up.

“For the first time, we have both (the YMCA and YWCA), Primary Healthcare, CCAC, A Second Chance, Operation Better Block, and the Salvation Army working together toward developing a coordinated matrix of services,” said Byrdsong.

“We have indigenous leadership on the economy, public safety, and education.”

Byrdsong said this achievement has slowly been built from the framework of the CEA’s Urban Agenda work, during which he found that while there are a number of service providers in the community, they didn’t know each other.

“So now, we are getting to know each other, we’re breaking bread together, and we’re getting together on joint events,” he said. “One of these is our new Midnight Basketball piece to get at this problem of youth violence.

“Yeah, it sounds old and done before, but we’re going to have the social service, education, employment and health care providers right there, because the kids we’re targeting don’t use conventional service providers.”

MAKING IT FIT—Chris McHenry has been in  construction for 12 years.

MAKING IT FIT—Chris McHenry has been in construction for 12 years.

This particular initiative starts Friday, Nov. 29, at CEA with the Madden tournament from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., followed by the basketball from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.  It has already attracted private sector sponsorship from Mistick Construction, Mascaro Construction and the KBK Foundation, as well as the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh.

The sponsors are also an outgrowth of the employment initiatives throughout the community, including CEA students and construction graduates working on the Homewood Station senior building just a few blocks away. (See accompanying story.)

Father David Taylor of St. Charles Lwanga Church said ever since he got to Homewood in the mid-1970s, cohesion among community service providers has always been a problem. So he fully supports what Byrdsong, Operation Better Block, the Ys and everyone else are doing.

I am glad to see them coming together, to see it happening,” he said. “While various other churches support this initiative at some level, I’m working to get more ministers involved because Homewood has challenges that no single faith community can handle.”

Phil Martin, a soldier with the Homewood Salvation Army, said he’d definitely like to see that because it’s still hard to see signs of success when guys are still hanging on the corners and there are more abandoned properties than anywhere else in the city.

“If every church in Homewood covered the two blocks immediately around their buildings, the whole neighborhood would be covered,” he said. “You’ve got to get out and knock on doors.”

Byrdsong said if they do this right people–foundations, corporations and political leaders would be knocking on Homewood’s door.

“Mayor-elect Peduto came to some of our first meetings, and out of those Urban Agenda discussions I believe came his setting up an executive-level Office of Urban Affairs and having Valerie McDonald Roberts in charge,” said Byrdsong. “We’ll have delegates from our commission interfacing with her as quickly and as regularly as possible.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com)

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