Harambee, Wisconsin

Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation

Harambee, Wisconsin

BCJI Funding Year: FY2019

BCJI Awardee: WestCare Wisconsin, Inc.

Research Partner: WestCare Foundation

Focus Area: Harambee - Population 12,723

Challenges: Gun Violence, Assault, Theft, Vandalism, Burglary

Neighborhood Characteristics

WestCare Wisconsin, Inc., (WC-WI) is leading grant efforts to adequately fund programming in the Harambee community of Milwaukee. High rates of crime, poverty, unemployment, poor health, struggling schools, and inadequate housing keep many residents and local businesses from reaching their full potential.

The Harambee area, a community full of historic homes and antique churches, encompasses a radius of approximately 160 blocks. Its name signifies two things: the abundant presence of African American residents and a spirit of community that remains rooted in the old neighborhood. "Harambee" is a Swahili word that means "pulling together." The name was adopted by a project of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) Extension in 1974. UWM Extension staff taught courses on political awareness and developed a pilot ombudsman project that supported block leaders and responded to resident complaints, which later became the Harambee Ombudsman Project, Inc. In 2012, Dr. James G. White, a prominent community leader and formerly elected Milwaukee County supervisor, established WC-WI. The WC-WI initiative continued the mission of the Harambee Ombudsman Project., Inc., building on the foundation of 37 years of community outreach experience.

Since 2012, WC-WI and the Milwaukee Police Department have been fighting violence in their city by utilizing available resources and community partnerships. The target area, while in the heart of a historic cultural district, has some disparaging statistics. According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 45 percent of residents live below the poverty level, and 25 percent of the working-age population is unemployed, twice the city's unemployment rate (12 percent).

The lack of employment and economic opportunities in Milwaukee are the leading factors contributing to the risk of structural violence at the community level. Community members indicate that diminished access to essential resources such as health services, food, childcare, transportation, after-school programming, and recreation increases the risk of violence. Racial segregation from opportunities and concentrated disadvantage within the city were identified as prominent risk factors and examples of structural violence. In fact, Milwaukee's zip code area 53206, which is adjacent to the Harambee district, has the highest rate of incarcerated African American men in the United States. In addition, Milwaukee is ranked as one of the most segregated cities in the country, and Wisconsin is ranked as one of the most segregated states.

Planning Phase

The program goals of WC-WI's Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) initiative are to reduce crime, increase mutual trust, and improve community safety as part of a comprehensive strategy to rebuild Qualified Opportunity Zone (QOZ) neighborhoods and spur revitalization. WC-WI President Travis Landry will lead the management team to formalize cross-sector collaboration. Collectively, the management team will target hot spots of crime and employ data-driven strategies to accomplish this goal. The future vision for the target QOZs is to reverse the trend of violent crime by providing a safe place to live and work.

At the beginning of the Planning Phase, WC-WI hired Kevin Brown to serve as the BCJI program director. The Planning Phase included training and orientation of decision-making processes, conflict resolution, and the development of memorandums of understanding (MOU) and safety partnership agreements within the cross-sector team. The cross-sector management team discussed violence prevention research strategies and identified diverse primary data collection and distribution sources. This will begin regular data exchanges to address specific crime drivers.

Implementation Strategies

After conducting Planning Phase activities and data analysis, the site selected the following goals for its implementation strategy:

  • Bridge the relationship between the police and the community while helping residents and businesses make Milwaukee stronger and more vibrant.
  • Reduce crime through neighborhood watch; and enhanced police community relations. The WC-WI team and the block club watch group will be visible in the target area.
  • Increase property value in communities by supporting rehab and beautification projects. 
  • Increase economic vitality by engaging youth in community service and entry-level employment opportunities while providing them with the soft skills necessary to learn and become productive in their area of interest. 
  • Improve the quality of life for area residents by bridging existing service gaps between needs and available resources. 
  • Increase the number of youths educated about the benefits of making better choices and decisions to increase their chance of becoming productive citizens.

Further, the site also developed the following objectives to guide its implementation strategy: 

  • Youth Services: Establish a credible messenger program to connect all young people to healthy homes and supportive communities and provide preventative supports.
  • Neighborhood Improvement: work with low-income owner occupants to help resolve municipal building and safety code violations and reduce lead-based paint hazards so residents can remain in their homes.
  • Family Crisis Prevention: empower families and individuals by providing collaborative strength-based services, domestic violence prevention or child abuse and neglect prevention services to families or family advocates to improve their quality of life.
  • Skilled Trades Preparation: Offer a training program to integrate work-based learning with vocational and academic skills training for youth and young adults in the target areas

Guided by identified implementation objectives, the site intends to perform the following activities during the implementation phase:

  • Conduct community surveys and door-to-door contacts to collect information and develop strategies with residents, businesses, and stakeholders on community issues. 
  • Coordinate with the MPD and Grace Fellowship Church to establish and maintain a neighborhood watch, community events, and address criminal and other nuisance complaints along with other collaborative projects. 
  • Assist with coordinated community cleans-up events along with residents, businesses, and the City’s Department of Neighborhood Services (DNS). 
  • Conduct neighborhood meetings involving stakeholders (residents and businesses) to address community priorities and issues. 
  • Host training sessions and workshops for the community on strategies and techniques to enhance their ability to be an effective organized community. 
  • Organize five resident block watches per year to together to watch out for one another and address quality of life issues affecting the neighborhood. The block watches will provide a structure through which the police, city officials, and the community meet one another to build trust and recognition through community meetings.
  • Develop a gun safety education program to provide statistics, violence prevention information, and free gun locks for residents to address gun violence in Milwaukee and keep households safe from mishandlings of firearms. 
  • Collaborate with the Milwaukee Fire Department, MPD, Milwaukee Public Schools, City of Milwaukee, local municipal judge, local funeral home, community-based organizations, residents, and district attorney’s office to host special events during high school homecoming and Mother’s Day weekend to illustrate the consequences of distracted driving.
  • Create yard signs to promote reduced speed when traveling through urban neighborhoods, and pedestrian, and school crossing to help drivers understand the relationship between excessive speed and traffic collisions, injuries, and fatalities. This community-led initiative will be discussed during every block watch meeting to gain community input.
  • Set up booths at various community and school events throughout the city and provide resources to promote and increase public safety, enhance crime prevention, and improve neighborhood quality of life.
  • Use social media, podcast, canvassing, and advertisement to transmit information to the public, to give the community the power to share, build better communities and connect the residents vested in their neighborhood closer together.
  • Identify block ambassadors to participate as cross-sector team members who will engage residents to maintain their homes. Ambassadors will be provided with cleaning kits and a social media page, text number, e-mail address, and phone number will be available for residents to reach out.
  • Collaborate with the police department to organize community bike ride-along events with the police in Milwaukee.

Other Key Partners

Milwaukee Police Department District 5, Grace Fellowship Church of Milwaukee.

This project is supported by Cooperative Agreement No. 2018-BJ-BX-K035 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions contained herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. References to specific agencies, companies, products, or services should not be considered an endorsement by the author(s) or the U.S. Department of Justice. Rather, the references are illustrations to supplement discussion of the issues.

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