AMUS brings blight cleanup, data to Osborn

Kids can’t thrive in environments where they don’t feel safe. So with the help of the American Urban Safety Initiative, neighborhood organizations like the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance (ONA) are now privy to information about neighborhood crime trends, information that allows stakeholders to make smart decisions about where to target interventions and focus safety efforts, all to make kids feel safer.

Matrix Center volunteers
Matrix Center volunteers board up building on Schaefer St.

AMUS started as an initiative in Midtown Detroit and expanded to neighborhoods in 2013 and 2014, thanks in part to a $200,000 grant from the Skillman Foundation. Other funders of the program include Wayne State University, the Kresge Foundation, Henry Ford Health System, Jefferson East Inc., and the Detroit Medical Center.

Now, Quincy Jones, ONA’s executive director, can attend monthly meetings with police officials in an effort to help the residents mobilize, patrol, and be more mindful. He said he has been able to build relationships with police, especially now that the Detroit Police Department has assigned community officers to neighborhoods.

“Until now, people just viewed the cops as they are not going to come,” Jones said. “We’re trying to fight this crime culture that says, ‘I can do what I want to do, and I’m not going to get caught.’ So, now, we have community police in the neighborhood. You can feel them, see them, touch them, and relate to them.”

Total grants in 2012-2013 Safety:


Total grant dollars paid in 2012-2013 Safety:

$1.43 million

At the monthly meetings, AMUS staff members share statistics and trends. They let neighborhood leaders know what corners or properties have developed into hot spots – places where criminal incidents are occurring. They point out increases and decreases in certain kinds of crimes and hypothesize about why they might be occurring. With police and community, they plan for strategies that can combat trouble.

“Cops alone can’t do it,” Jones said, “and the neighborhoods can’t either.”

AMUS is not only about data; it’s also about taking action. ONA employees and volunteers put in hundreds of hours alongside AMUS to clean up the area’s blight to make the neighborhood safer and appealing to investors.

In 2013, for example, ONA led seven major cleanups in the neighborhood, ridding parks, alleys, and streets of trash – much of it from the area being used as an illegal dumping ground – and boarding up 30 vacant buildings.

When the dozens of youth helped board up vacant buildings in areas on Schoenherr Road and Mapleridge Street and 6 Mile Road and Gunston Street as part of ONA’s Live in Osborn initiative, the students summoned their muses to create positive works of expression.

Osborn neighborhood cleanup
Osborn neighborhood cleanup during Motor City Makeover sponsored by Buildon, Live in Osborn, and Youth Connection, and the Skillman Foundation.

“We put up murals that have stayed clean and have not been tagged,” Kayana Sessoms said. “The boarded-up buildings created a desolate look, so the students helped brighten the community in the midst of the transition from blight to the rehab stages. These projects create safe pathways for youth to walk through to get to bus stops and other areas, and they’ve said they feel much safer walking down Schoenherr.”

Sessoms considers herself a stakeholder in the Osborn neighborhood, where she has worked for the last three years. She is an ONA board member and also works as the Osborn program manager with the Detroit branch of buildOn, an international organization working to improve the education crisis. ONA prides itself on being a well-organized knowledge broker with part of its mission being to attract individuals to the neighborhood and to bring in resources. As the neighborhood’s safety improves, that gets easier.

“Now, we need rehab dollars,” Jones said. “We may not be Midtown or downtown. However, we have highly engaged residents. We want to look at economic development in different ways – in terms of human development and community development. We need to figure out more ways to start getting major investors in here.”