Advocacy group Nine Blocks will focus on Elkhart neighborhood's needs

Group has been working for months and announced plans at end of Roosevelt meeting Tuesday night.

Posted on July 16, 2014 at 6:08 p.m.

ELKHART — A new group has surfaced and hopes to focus on helping improve the Roosevelt neighborhood in Elkhart.

A representative of the advocacy group, known as Nine Blocks, gave a brief recap of goals Tuesday night, July 15, at the end of a lengthy roundtable discussion about neighborhood violence.

The group hopes to soon initiate a door-to-door survey, according to Rod Roberson, a city council member who is involved with Nine Blocks.

The group has pulled together a dozen or so well-respected people from the community.

The group will also team up with those affiliated with My Hood Needz Me, which launched a year ago in an effort to engage youth and residents.

Roberson said representatives of My Hood will attempt to connect with young people from the neighborhood and build relationships in hopes of channeling them away from activities on the street.

The survey would look at the needs and fears of the community and also ask residents what they are willing to do to help, Roberson said.

“The strategy is a longer term one around the surveys, but at least it starts to create relationships with people,” Roberson said.

The group has been meeting for more than six months, he said.

“We’re behind the scenes, and we feel as though it’s more powerful to do that than be overtly trying to decide who gets what,” he said.

As for the scope of the focus, Roberson said, “We thought this was a small enough piece, but a significant enough piece for us to bite off and create an impact,” Roberson said.

Roberson said he was encouraged with much of what was said during Tuesday night’s meeting at the Historic Roosevelt Center.

Tuesday’s meeting was organized by Elkhart Community Roundtable, another group seeking solutions toward improving conditions in the neighborhood.

Mayor Dick Moore, who attended the meeting but did not participate in the panel discussion, spoke briefly at the end and thanked those for their comments.

Numerous people at the meeting complained about racial profiling and a lack of trust between the community and police.

Moore said he plans to meet with leaders in his administration before making any suggestions and that he would have a follow-up meeting with community leaders.

Moore said one thing that seemed clear from the meeting is the need to establish better relationships.

But Moore defended the increased police patrols in parts of the Roosevelt neighborhood that angered some residents nearly two weeks ago.

He said patrols are the result of complaints from residents who are tired of the loitering, littering, vandalism and crime and that the police work, including pulling over vehicles, is being “done in the best interest of the neighborhood.”

Much of those concerns were concentrated on part of Garfield Avenue.

On Friday, representatives of the police department are expected to meet with residents of the 100 block of West Garfield Avenue — an area just south of the Roosevelt Center — to discuss concerns that flared on the Fourth of July weekend after a police officer was attacked.

Leighton Johnson, who served as moderator of the Tuesday meeting, said he thought Tuesday’s meeting succeeded in giving people a voice in front of city leaders.

He said he likes the idea of Nine Blocks and the fact several groups have formed in the past year with the same goals.

“If we all came together — boom — we could change Elkhart,” Johnson said.

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