Week 3: Learning More Every Day – Detroit Community-Engaged Research Program

Week 3: Learning More Every Day

Hello again! I am back to write about my third week in Detroit and what’ve learned from it so far.

Probably the biggest thing I’ve learned is that in this city, especially through my experience with the NSO, is that it is not enough to have good intentions when serving a community. This is something that I’d known from prior research but has become so clear and spelled out for me in my work with homelessness in Detroit and learning more about the gentrification of the city. Outsiders may come in to the city of Detroit and make their own plan on how to fix one problem or another, I see this mostly with the housing and land issues, but they do not understand the deeper consequences of their actions. Even if someone goes in with the completely right intention of helping to build up the city and lift up its residents, it is so easy for them to take a wrong step and end up hurting the city or negatively impacting the culture.

Detroit has such a rich and complicated history and knowing that can allow the citizens to receive help or care in a more effective way. There is a historical distrust between the people of Detroit and other entities including: large corporations looking to set up downtown, a government who has not held true to many of their promises, and even the health care system. This distrust is a valid reaction to those entities taking advantage of, harming, or completely bulldozing the communities that they are entering and can be prevented by having the input of someone in the communities before making decisions or changes.

I’ve seen this idea implemented in the non-profit that I am interning, the Neighborhood Service Organization, with and it seems to be an effective way to gain real time input from the people that are being served by community organizations. The main goal of the NSO is to eliminate homelessness through a housing first, holistic plan. They have multiple locations with long term housing and short term housing as well as medical staff who meets people on the street to provide them with care. The board of the NSO, who make many of the decisions for the org, always has at least one person who is actively receiving care from the organization. This means that someone who is effected by the decisions of the organization, actually has a direct hand in making those decisions. I would love to see other organizations and corporations implement this idea of either directly consulting with the members of the community or having someone on the team who is an active member of the community.

The pandemic has affected the NSO but not as much as I would’ve thought. The care has not changed very much. Residents of the long term apartments still get three meals a day and therapists and nurses are available to everyone receiving care. There has been some issues with keeping the NSO fully staffed since covid, this has been especially prevalent in the medical sectors who have needed increased help since covid hit.

I have not been able to interact with many community members from my site so far. The NSO has fairly strict covid protocols since many of the people in their housing have compromised immune systems that would not react well to covid. But, in mid August I will be helping out the fundraising event, “Handlebars for the Homeless”, which is a 15 mile bike ride through the neighborhoods of Detroit. This will be a chance for me to interact with the community and the people in it as well as raise money for the NSO. I am on the committee that is making this event happen so I am really excited to get it moving and to get the Detroit communities involved.

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