Monday, August 30, 2010

Can't Get There From Here

Facing south just off of 26th and Pacific
26th dead-ends before it can reach the Mississippi River.  To add insult to injury, this sorry excuse of a cul-de-sac is often strewn with litter.
Just north of the end of the bike path along the river, we can just about see 26th Ave.
Just imagine what it would be like for Hawthorne residents if we could bike down 26th, hang a right, and see this view in an instant.
Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

I've hinted at this once before, but the Hawthorne neighborhood's connection to the Mississippi River is woefully under-utilized. Broadway Pizza doesn't take advantage of it, there was no synergy between the Aquatennial and FLOW this year, and if you want to get to the River from the residential sector, you have two choices: take Broadway (which is not a pedestrian-friendly stretch at this juncture) or zigzag through an industrial corridor.

Furthermore, as Hawthorne has done neighborhood surveys for our second round of NRP funding, we've found that most residents don't identify the river as something that's truly a part of our community. "That's for rich folk," is a common refrain. If we had an easy way to get directly to the Mississippi from 26th, I guarantee we'd hear a different tune. Not only that, but property along 26th Avenue and the eastern edge of the neighborhood would almost certainly become among the most desirable spots in the city.

Now, if we really want to get technical...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Replacement Windows and Closed Porches - A Slummy Pictorial

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Just in case readers weren't convinced by my last post about the effects of things like replacement windows, I've gone through the Hawkman slumlord archives to retrieve some other prime examples of what happens when people like Bashir Moghul, Mahmood Khan, Paul Koenig, and those behind the Danna D III LLC get their hands on properties in NoMi. I even had someone with more architectural knowledge look at these pictures as well, to confirm what it was that I was seeing.

First up is Bashir Moghul. The photo above displays the exact kind of windows that little children are prone to fall out of. Nice work Bashir.

This one was at one point in time an open porch. Not only was it closed off, it was done without anything more aesthetically or structurally sound than plywood.

If you look to the side here, you can see where someone took out a double-hung sash and replaced it with a plywood and vinyl heap of ugliness.

Here's another closed porch and similar mistreatment of the second-floor window.
Look at the first floor windows there.  He's really not even trying at this point.
At least here, Moghul kept the original openings intact.  If someone were to come along and restore decent windows, that job wouldn't be so hard.
Here though, he didn't even bother to keep any openings.  Several windows are just covered up.
The little white diamonds under the plywood are the architectural equivalent of a middle finger.
And here we see what many slumlords have done, removing or covering up a second-story arched window frame.
Several more slumlord shots are coming right up...

A Line in the Sand on NXNS

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, photo by John Hoff

As I delve into criticisms of slumlords that have impacted our lives here in NoMi, I expect I'll get a few comments inquiring about my own landlord's imperfect track record. In fact, several such messages have already come my way. They have been and will continue to be deleted without being published.

I knew my landlord had issues with foreclosures before I rented to him. My move to this property became necessary when my previous landlord at 2218 Lyndale Ave N had his property raided. I knew Brian as an involved member of the Hawthorne community, and decided to move into one of his properties. Doing so would give a Hawthorne-based landlord at least one stable tenant in the hopes that he'd be able to build off of my timely rent and attract other quality renters.

There's this other guy, Jim Watkins (aka "The Anti-Johnny"), who's been going after John Hoff (Johnny Northside) for quite some time. I couldn't say what his motivations are for such a personal interest in John Hoff, nor do I particularly care. What I care about is that this is a person who has made intensely personal attacks against Hoff, Megan Goodmundson, myself, and other NoMi residents who are struggling to make things better. These attacks have intensified on the Jordan Hawkman website, where they frequently reference physical appearance and sexuality, as if those things have any bearing whatsoever on neighborhood revitalization.  Watkins has expressed support for that site, although it is not known if he made any such comments there himself.

So, Jim Watkins contacted me several times. Here are two of his emails below:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

NXNS Sports Section - North High Polars

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, photo from the North High Football web page.

Last year, our North High Polars' football team made it all the way to the state quarterfinals. What I found more disappointing than their loss at that stage was that there seemed to be relatively little excitement in the community for our youth. I'll admit that even I didn't go to a single game.

I had my reasons though. My youngest brother was the captain of his football team as a senior in high school. Unsure if he'd play in college, I went to see my bro guide my alma mater to their best season in school history. He's a redshirt freshman at a division II school this year. So I've got one year where I know my brother won't get playing time, and I won't be traveling to see him play.

So I want to do something no other NoMi blog is doing: cover the North High football games this year. When our kids are succeeding like this, that story needs to be told. "And you can blog about other school board and education issues too!" said one rather eager friend of mine. Right...let's see here...

Okay, first off, I think that the main problem with kids' education these days is the kind of TV they watch at a very young age. Programs like Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, and Blues Clues all teach children that the world is full of multi-racial people who want to help you organize things into recognizable patterns of colors, shapes, letters, and numbers. This is of course an utter pack of lies.

Now when I was growing up, the TV show I watched most often was GI Joe. GI Joe taught me that the world is full of multi-racial groups of people fighting against a global corporate behemoth hellbent on world domination. Although you wouldn't need a military force to defeat them so much as a decent audit, because there was NO WAY a viable business model would support all those bases in the arctic. Obviously, the world according to GI Joe is much closer to reality than anything else children nowadays watch on TV.

Pictured above: a top-quality education.

The other thing GI Joe taught me as a child was that gun violence never solved ANYTHING. Guns were absolutely USELESS in those cartoons.

Maybe if today's youth grew up with the same opinions about guns, we'd be a whole lot better off. Sure, GI Joe and Cobra still used violence to solve their problems, it's just that guns never really had much impact. This is essentially what we want to spend $2.2 million for CeaseFire to accomplish, so I figure this idea's gotta be worth at least fifty bucks in federal program income.

Okay, sorry for the tangent, but I wanted to demonstrate that obviously you should have someone ELSE blogging about childhood education issues. But if I write about our North High football team, and this blog gets used as a discussion forum for broader topics, I'd be happy to publish such comments.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to join me, the North High football schedule can be found here. I'll be going to as many games as I can. Go Polars!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What Broadway Pizza Needs

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

When I get together with friends from across NoMi and we solve all the neighborhood's world's problems, one topic seems to come up with increasing frequency: what would make us patronize area businesses? More to the point, since this conversation is probably ALREADY happening at Good Sports, Broadway Pizza, or Donny Dirk's, what would draw OTHER PEOPLE from outside NoMi?

And that brings us to what Broadway Pizza needs: an outdoor patio. My goodness, look at the view! Today was such a gorgeous day, who WOULDN'T want to eat outside, looking at the Minneapolis skyline and the river?! The view at night is perhaps even more astounding, although harder to capture in a photograph. While I'm daydreaming, it would also be cool to light up the Broadway Avenue bridge like we do with 35W.

What bothers me here isn't just the fact that we're missing out on something amazing. The person who brought this to my attention has spoken with Broadway management about this very issue. He was told that they don't have an outdoor patio on this spot because they're worried about drive-by shootings. Really?

I can understand that concern back when Johnny A's and Stand Up Frank's were your two neighboring establishments. But there's really no excuse now. And the fear that nothing good can happen because things were rough before is something that really holds our neighborhood back.

I like Broadway Pizza a lot, and not just because of their great political campaign victory parties. So I'm not looking to publicly shame them in any way. But people should call or stop by and tell the management what a great addition to NoMi this would be. Most importantly, tell them how much more often you'd come by or recommend the place to your friends. Let's make it clear to Broadway Pizza that the outdoor patio would be a financial boon. And by next summer we'll have the best restaurant view in all of Minneapolis.

CeaseFire Under the Microscope (Part 2 in an ongoing series)

Photo from Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, who like the street art depicted above, is not too fond of CeaseFire.

As the CeaseFire model of crime prevention (assuming it actually DOES prevent violent crime) is discussed as an option for Minneapolis, I've decided to do something rather unique. I've actually read a legislative audit, and blogged about those findings. I'm also slogging through a 229-page report from Northwestern University to see a different take on the program.

I blogged about what I found there, and will continue that discussion in this post. We left off with some positive elements about CeaseFire helping people find jobs. And clients overall did say that CeaseFire was helpful. Roughly half of the clients interviewed named the CeaseFire outreach worker as an influential adult in their lives, second only to parents (66%). But, and it seems there's always a but...

"...a great obstacle to building trust and remaining in contact with clients was CeaseFire’s staff turnover. There was an absence of consistent staff retention policies and practices across sites. While there was some potential for career advancement within the organization, it was quite limited. Vertical moves were contingent upon someone leaving. Moreover, there were generally no clear financial or professional incentives for outreach workers to develop skills within their current position.

"For most outreach workers, the job was one of high risks, limited benefits and low wages...The program’s perennial funding instability also had a demoralizing impact on every level of the program, and periodically left staff in precarious financial circumstances."

Then, when outreach workers invariably did leave, they became yet another influential adult who had disappeared from their clients' lives. (Kind of the way ACORN organizers would come through a community, promise the world, and then leave after three months) And since the workers were hired due in large part to their street connections, and since client information was recorded in such a cryptic, guarded fashion, maintaining any semblance of continuity from one worker to the next was almost impossible.

This contributed to an already difficult monitoring of the program's effectiveness. How do you define "violence"? Is it a fight at a bus stop among high school kids, or something more serious? Some workers admitted they either didn't bother stopping "minor" violence, or if they did, they wouldn't fill out a form describing what happened. Conversely, others admitted to stepping in to almost any situation merely to drive up their intervention statistics. Finally, if a violent act is only delayed, even if for an extended period of time, can one really count it as violence that has been prevented?

Mistrust of the police and court system on the part of the workers didn't help either. "On most conflict mediation forms, violence interrupters offered only vague outlines of disputes and the ways they settled them, in case the court system ever subpoenaed them. In a violence interrupter thought that generalizing the location did not ensure confidentiality. 'If you put [beat] 2525, they'll just look at the date and see if you put enough info to pop the brother's ass. You sold him out. The police can come and get it when they want to get it.'"

Another interrupter described the time he spent on the streets with people as "just hanging out." And, "Ninety percent of the time, we're just shooting the shit." As a staff person of a community group myself, I can certainly justify some degree of just hanging out and talking with community members. But NINETY PERCENT of the time? We're paying someone to do this WHY?

So, when interrupters are just "shooting the shit" and not filling out the proper paperwork to document how that prevents violence, what are they specifically DOING? First off, as stated before, they're not really big on preventing drug sales or use. If rival gangs are fighting over territory on a particular corner, CeaseFire workers will negotiate who can sell dope over here and who can sell crack over there and who can turn tricks down the street.

Rules of the street were often used to try and mediate conflicts. This was not always successful. The report gives two stories about how that hasn't worked too well. Read on:

"Interrupters did not appeal to mainstream property rights when settling disputes, but they do emulate some legal and financial practices. It was not clear how effective these were on the street. In one Latino neighborhood, a man gave a boy marijuana to sell and expected $600 in return. The boy gave him only $300, and said he didn’t have any more money. Whenever the man saw the boy, he would beat him up. The boy eventually contacted a violence interrupter, who in turn brokered an agreement between them: a re-payment on an installment plan. The boy agreed to give the man $20 every two weeks until he reached $300.

"In another conflict on the West Side, a violence interrupter arranged for a woman to be compensated for damages she had suffered. In this incident, a woman double parked, and when a man asked her to move her car, she 'cursed him out and called him a B.' As she was pulling away, the man threw a brick through her car window. He intended to hit her; instead, he hit her passenger in the mouth, knocking out some of her teeth. The victim’s cousins were 'going to do something to the dude.' But the violence interrupter stepped in and got the man to promise that he would pay for her dental work. This arrangement stalled her cousins.

"Both of these arrangements have since become uncertain. In the first incident, the older man went to prison on a narcotics-related charge. In the second, the man has still not paid for the woman’s dental work."

But the next story should get us even more worked up - not just that this sort of thing happens, but that through implementing CeaseFire in Minneapolis, we could be spending millions of taxpayer dollars to ENABLE such behavior. Specifically, we're talking about "violations," or gang beatings as a semi-structured way of meting out retaliatory justice.

"Interrupters also relied on street sovereignty when they tried to deflect potentially fatal retaliation to punishment by an offender’s own gang. In mediating conflicts, they suggested or went along with (but certainly did not participate in) 'violations,' which are timed beatings that gangs inflict on their own members. In a Northwest side conflict, two cliques from the same umbrella gang started throwing punches. As one of the boy’s mothers tried to break it up, a man from the other crew misidentified her and punched her in the face. This woman’s son wanted to shoot him, but the violence interrupter asked him to consider other options: 'there are ways to settle this without pistol play. Maybe there can be a violation.'

"In another Northwest side incident, two men from different organizations got into a fight over a woman. As they argued, one of the men knifed the other, 'slicing his face.' The victim’s organization was considering retaliating by shooting the man who permanently scarred their friend. To avoid this, violence interrupters arranged a meeting between the leaders of the two organizations. The knifeman’s organization agreed that they would violate him if the other organization said they wouldn’t shoot him. One of the violence interrupters was impressed that the victim’s crew agreed to this deal. 'It took something,' he thought, because their member was now 'scarred for life.'

"In yet another incident, on the South Side, a man was selling drugs in a public housing building dominated by another gang. When members of that organization found out about his business, they attempted to rob him and in the process 'hit one of the man’s children with a gun.' When the victim was preparing to retaliate, a violence interrupter stepped in and promised to mediate the conflict. He spoke to the other gang’s leader, who had not given the lower-ranking members permission to steal, saying of the robbers that they were 'on some thirsty, thieving shit.' Their organization made them return what they had stolen and even 'put some money on top of it for his daughter.' Furthermore, the men were violated by their own gang."

You and I could be on the hook for $2.2 MILLION in federal dollars over three years coming to Minneapolis to fund and enable such behavior. Reportedly one CeaseFire center cost $240,000 per year to run in Chicago. That would give us three such locations in Minneapolis for three years. We'll explore where that money might go in the next post...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Replacement Windows Look Like Crap!

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

A friend provided this link to me via Facebook several days ago (and this one). Anyone thinking about replacing windows instead of refurbishing, READ THESE FIRST!!!

Replacing original windows with the Crestline vinyl abominations shown above is certain to get you on the NXNS wall of shame. (And the property in that photo just happens to belong to noted slumlord Bashir Moghul.)

I've done extensive photo tours of various noted slumlords: Danna D III, Gregge Johnson, Mahmood Khan, and Paul Koenig/Pamiko, to name a few. And one of the things that always got to me was how cruddy the windows looked. Preservationists will have our own take on why original windows are often better. And from an environmental standpoint, isn't it greener to NOT put this stuff in a landfill? Especially if a refurbished original window will last much, MUCH longer than a new one?

Furthermore, there seems to be a direct correlation between crummy windows, slummy properties, and bad owners/occupants. Now, I highly doubt I'm going to have some slumlord read this post and see the light. So here's why NoMi homeowners ought to keep and refurbish your original windows whenever possible:

Continually painted wood can last as long as 200 years. Vinyl lasts 10-20.

Older windows were MADE to be repaired. Oldhouseguy says, "They can be taken apart to insert new rails or muntins (cross pieces separating the panes). Broken parts can be remade or whole sashes duplicated fairly cheaply. Rotted wood can be repaired to look like new with easy-to-use epoxy fillers. In many cases, these windows have been in service for over a hundred years with much of their deterioration resulting directly from a lack of maintenance."

Older windows are made of a quality of wood we likely won't see again - ever. "That virgin forest wood is close-grained and resinous. Today’s young lumber cannot match the longevity of the historic wood. To trash your old windows is to trash a superior material that can no longer be bought. A replacement window will need replacement before the old one would have needed simple maintenance."

An original window with a storm window is often more energy-efficient than newer double-glazed windows.

The replacement windows being peddled are most often highly inappropriate for the historic nature of your house. There is a direct correlation between the historic integrity of a house and its market value.

Reusing historic windows eliminates the need for removal and disposal of existing windows, as well as the environmental costs of manufacturing and transporting new ones. The "greenest" window is the one already in use.

Restoration is nearly twice as labor-intensive as new construction, meaning more money goes directly to people instead of product costs.

An associate of mine has recommended Minnesota Window Restoration as a good place to start when considering refurbishing your windows. Another friend has had a good experience with Greg Rosenow of TLC Renovations.

Refurbish, don't replace!

Hawk Tweets!

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

NXNS now has a Twitter feed! I have several plans for this particular blog feature. Obviously, it will allow me to get NoMi news out much more rapidly than waiting until I have enough spare time to do a full blog post. The tweets may also lead to more extensive stories in the future.

The second feature Twitter allows is a location finder. Last night, I made a midnight gyro run to Olympic Cafe. (And by the way, I was rather critical of them initially, but they have won me over with their good food, excellent service, and the fact that they deliver. Furthermore, they are one of the few businesses along that stretch of West Broadway that have put significant effort into their facade, and there is almost always someone outside keeping the sidewalk clean.)

My tweet, "I heart Olympic Cafe," was made at that spot. Anyone unfamiliar with where this NoMi business is can click on the location finder on my Twitter page and see for themselves. I'm still working out the bugs where this can be done easily directly from the NXNS blog, but this will do for now.

Finally, as this blog picks up steam (and readers!) I hope other northsiders will drop me a quick note about something neat, or important, or even problematic, that they are seeing on their block. If you make it 140 characters or less, I may re-tweet it. Readers can do this by direct Twitter messages, emailing my Hawthorne Hawkman profile, or the North by Northside gmail account.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The First Honorary Inductee to the NXNS Hall of Fame Is...

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the Detroit Free Press.

In my opening post for this blog, I made a note to myself to add a "Wall of Shame" section. However, just as C.S. Lewis posited that evil, on its own cannot exist without good to define it, a "Hall of Fame" is more relevant to the revitalization efforts documented here.

Before we get to our first nominee, an explanation of the above photo is in order. The Stanley Cup is pretty much the coolest trophy that exists anywhere in the world. And after one championship, one Red Wings' player, Vladimir Konstantinov, was in a tragic car accident. He was left physically and mentally disabled. The Red Wings won the title the following year as well. And when they skated the victory lap, they did so while pushing Vladimir in his wheelchair, with the trophy in his lap.

This, in my opinion, is the single greatest moment involving the best trophy, and I can think of no better honor that I can bestow on my fellow revitalizers. The first recipient of said honor is...


Boathead is a frequent commenter on the Johnny Northside blog. His posts (I'm assuming this is a guy) almost never contain paragraph breaks. They're chock full of sometimes nonsensical rants and always dripping with energy and emotion. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation are mere suggestions as he bends the written word to his will. Normally, this bothers me, but Boathead makes it work.

A Boathead post is the blog equivalent of the Kool-Aid man busting on to the scene. Sure he could have been neater and there's a hell of a mess to clean up, but the sugary goodness that follows makes it all worthwhile. Come and break through MY wall, Boathead! OH YEAH.

The floor is now open for other nominations.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Breaking Down CeaseFire (part 1 of ?)

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman. First image from, second image from

After I reviewed a 2007 Illinois legislative audit of CeaseFire, I introduced this blog and that post on the Minneapolis Issues Forum. CM Gordon quickly responded with several links that explained his support of the program, and I promised to actually READ what he sent me. Hey, somebody's gotta do it.

Gordon's first link was just a few paragraphs from a foundation that gave CeaseFire money, and wanted to brag about how effective their money was. Due to the brevity and subjective nature of that link, I immediately disregarded its content. The third link went to a 400-page report, and who has time to read 400 pages of dry research findings on a volunteer basis?

The middle link brought me to a still-arduous 229-page report, and I've decided to slog through that. I'll post what I find interesting here on NXNS. For now, I've made it halfway through the report. I haven't had time to really digest it, so like a momma hawk feeding her young, I'm just regurgitating certain points here. My commentary will come once I've made it through the report in its entirety, but readers are of course encouraged to weigh in.

Here's what the Northwestern University report has to say. First, a story from one participant in the program:

"The [Black Peace} Stones are based on the South Side, whereas the Fours [four Corner Hustlers] and Vice Lords are based on the North Side. Last year, the Stones tried to 'cross the street' to sell drugs. The conflict, then, was about territory between 'pack workers' [men selling on corners]. So far, [the area] has been “fortunate.” They have not had any retaliations. One reason K____ and D_____ have been so successful in keeping conflicts down is that “they all work together. They all sell the same sized bags for the same amount of money. They got nickle [$5 bags], mid-grade, saw bucks [$10 bags].”

"An important program strategy was to organize rapid community responses to shootings. Following an incident, outreach workers and other staff members were to conduct a door-to-door canvass in the vicinity of the event, distributing program literature and spreading word that a collective response by the community was being organized."

"The message was always short. 'Stop the killing,' or 'No more shooting.' An advertising firm working pro bono with CeaseFire developed at 'Stop Killing People' campaign and associated signs and bumper stickers. CeasFire managers frequently drew parallels between their efforts and campaigns to stop smoking and promote seat belt use, where the messages included 'smoking kills,' and 'click it or ticket.' They cited public health research indicating the volume of literature distributed is paramount in changing the way people think rather than the details of the message. A senior program manager argued, 'It's not so important how perfect the message is but he intensity of the messaging. The goal is massive messaging.'"

"Potential clients were approached on the street by outreach workers, who were constantly in search of suitable, high-risk young men to meet their caseload quota. Many likely-looking prospects refused to become involved at the outset, while others dropped out quickly. We had little prospect of knowing whom any of them were. In order to reassure their clients – and protect their records from subpoenas – outreach workers identified their clients in their records, and to their immediate supervisors, only by code numbers and nicknames. So closely held was information about clients that, if an outreach worker left the program, by-and-large his clients were lost as well. This also meant that we did not have access to the information required to track clients’ arrest history using official records."

Many CeaseFire branches operated out of already-existing social service delivery centers and non-profits. This led to conflicts between the CeaseFire mission and the goals of the preexisting non-profit, including having CeaseFire employees writing grant proposals under the direction of the host Executive Directors.

And here's how one target area was described: "Today many sections are dotted with vacant lots where abandoned buildings that were beyond redemption or scarred by arson were demolished. The strength of the area’s rental housing was undermined by the deferred maintenance practices of absentee landlords, and more recently the area has been targeted by predatory mortgage lending companies."

"In another area, the issue was not so easily resolved. The host agency had developed an oppositional stance toward both the mayor of Chicago and the superintendent of police. Years before, the host had organized a protest demonstration at the mayor’s family’s home, as part of a residential picketing initiative, and they had attempted to embarrass the police superintendent at a press conference. These incidents were not well received. When the organization was selected to be a host agency for CeaseFire, objections were raised by both parties.

"Indeed, the host agency’s sentiments had not changed much, and some of its staff members continued to have issues with the police. This led to very poor communication between them, and eventually to conflict and name-calling. In the end, many CeaseFire employees were let go, and the police commander in the area made a point to work with the new staff hired by a replacement host organization."

While giving job opportunities to ex-felons is commendable, many had no prior experience with employment of this nature in regards to accountability and record-keeping. Also, keeping clients' names confidential added an extra layer of difficulty in tracking results.

"...their voice was fragmented and often contradictory, leaving the sites to piece together a program as they could...The instability of CeaseFire funding, the demands of the job, the high-risk backgrounds of most violence interrupters and outreach workers, and drug testing contributed to staff turnover. And, this came with a cost, most visibly in outreach worker-client relationships that could not be easily rebuilt
with another staff member."

Funding inconsistencies and a lack of job benefits contributed to staff turnover as well. For some reason, contracts stipulated that workers could work 900 hours (just under six months) and then take 30 days off. This also disrupted the relationship between outreach workers and clients. So many outreach workers had overlapping jobs, including one who "was in real estate, specifically the foreclosure business, and he had mediated between people whose homes he had tried to buy." Sound familiar?

The majestic dysfunction of Chicago politics didn't seem to help CeaseFire much either:

"To further complicate matters, a day after this budget announcement was made, the state released the findings of an audit of CeaseFire’s activities. The audit provided its own evaluative measures, and argued that the program had no impact on crime. According to the audit, CeaseFire had not been able to demonstrate its effectiveness in any significant way. Most of the remaining criticisms in the document focused on run-of-the-mill accounting errors that easily could have been made while trying to manage more than 20 active sites.

"The audit had been initiated by longtime critic of CeaseFire, a powerful state senator representing the city’s South Side and a prominent leader of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. One particular complaint of the Caucus was that CeaseFire was directed by a white epidemiologist. It did not matter that the CPVP staff was primarily Latino and African-American, and that the sites were located in almost completely Latino and African American neighborhoods. Their opposition explained why CeaseFire was a project of individual members of the state House of Representatives, and was never able to secure a permanent budget line debated by both houses of the General Assembly. Many observers wondered whether the audit was unbiased, and certainly the exquisite timing of its release was quite damaging to CeaseFire: the media focused as much on the audit as the budget cut."

So what did these outreach workers do? One illustrated his tasks this way: "I help them get ID cards and driver’s licenses. I’ll take them to their first driver’s test. If they don’t have a car, I even let them use mine. If a guy is living with his friends, he’s probably sleeping on a couch or on the floor. He’s not gonna be doing nothing. I’ll take [clients] down to Fullerton, where all the factories are, and fill out like 100 applications, like a mad man. I call that behavior modification."

Outreach workers reported that 81% of their clients claimed to have "never held a job." This doesn't QUITE line up with evidence showing that 50% of clients were employed full- or part-time at the time of service. These clients had to meet four of the seven following criteria: gang involvement, key role in a gang, prior criminal history, involved in high-risk street activity (i.e. drug markets), recent victim of a shooting, between the ages of 16 and 25, recently released from prison.

90% of clients reported being involved in a gang.

"Almost everyone (89 to 99 percent) who reported the listed problems indicated that CeaseFire was able to help them. Overall, clients reported an average of 2.6 problems, and receiving help for an average of 2.3 problems. In total, clients obtained assistance for 88 percent of the problems they reported facing."

"Jobs were the number one concern of CeaseFire clients, and many reported receiving assistance in finding one. However, this does not mean that they were hugely successful in actually securing a position. At the time of the interview, 25 percent of clients were working full-time; another 25 percent were working part-time, 38 percent were looking for work, and 12 percent indicated they were unemployed. The employment gap between job seekers who received assistance and those who did not was still considerable, however.

"Among clients who recalled receiving assistance, 52 percent later were working full or part time, and 48 percent were unemployed and looking for work. In contrast, among those who did not receive assistance, full or part-time employment stood at only 32 percent, and 68 percent were out of work. These differences were mirrored in their satisfaction. Among those who received assistance, 58 percent were 'very satisfied' with their job situation, and another 31 percent were 'somewhat satisfied.' In contrast, those who did not receive assistance were 'not satisfied' 43 percent of the time, and only 36 percent were very satisfied. One satisfied client tells us, 'Last summer I was selling dummy bags out there, I was bogus. I joined CeaseFire to get a job. CeaseFire hooked me up with it [the job].'

And that does it for part 1 of this report. Hopefully readers are still awake enough to offer their reactions.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

All Aboard the CeaseFire Money Train!

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the We Power Video Blog.

In response to this year's rise in homicides and violent crime in Minneapolis, a program from Chicago called CeaseFire has been proposed for our city. There was an immediate outcry from virtually all sides of this debate. The arguments against implementing CeaseFire strategies here essentially boiled down to two main points:

1. There are still murders happening in Chicago, so the program obviously doesn't work. (Proponents of this point of view cite current numbers or attention-grabbing headlines without examining the overall homicide rate in areas where CeaseFire has been active.)

2. There is a bunch of money involved in the strategies, and we've been working on anti-violence issues for a long time, so why not just give us more money instead?

Now, initially, I had some sympathy for the activists wondering where their reward was for the work they've put in. After all, I would sure like to get a few million from the federal government, the ability to spend it on housing, and a few years to produce results. But then the critical part of my brain started to kick in. First off, we're talking about essentially throwing US Department of Justice money at the issue of violent crime, without putting more cops on the street. Second, it took Spike Moss all of two seconds to play the race card.

More importantly, however, is the lack of a comprehensive proposal of what, exactly, anti-violence activists like Moss or VJ Smith would do with a sudden influx of millions in federal cash. And if these folks have been working on the issue for so long and we're stuck in neutral (or reverse), then how is giving the same people money to do the same things going to actually make an impact?

Finally, the Strib articles reference several studies done on the CeaseFire program. So I thought I'd track them down for NBNS readers. The first one, a 2007 state of Illinois audit, is not promising in the least - unless of course we're promising to funnel large amounts of cash to unidentified people with no meaningful results. I'll get to the second one in a subsequent post, if necessary. Here are some of the highlights:

From 2004 to 2006, approximately $19 million in federal, state, county, and private money was spent on CeaseFire activities. The testing found that "funds did not go to the stipulated purposes." So, where DID funds go?

"During Fiscal Year 2006, the Chicago project charged $365,000 in administrative fees that was not delineated in the agreement with DOC."

"Insufficient diligence by the Chicago Project led [them] to question $371,534 in reimbursements to community partners."

"The Department of Corrections had no predetermined performance measures contained in funding agreements with the University of Illinois detailing what results were expected for the funding levels received. The agreements simply set forth payment schedules." Translated into plain English, this essentially means a bunch of people got a whole lot of money without ever doing jack squat.

Roughly half of the funds spent through the University of Illinois-Chicago had not been properly documented at the time of the report. Full documentation was required sixty days after the final disbursement, yet after 260, such verification was still missing.

"The CeaseFire budget for the fiscal year 2004 ... failed to identify 18 individuals for positions that were described as 'vacant' or 'new hire.' These positions amounted to over $187,000, or 37% of the total budget."

Documentation submitted in June 2005 showed that the program was over budget by 33% in its allocated administrative costs and fringe benefits. $750,000 in funds were not properly monitored, and even THAT wasn't good enough. That particular line item STILL went $134,848 over budget. No, I am not making this up. It's on page six of the report.

Yeah, but does the program, as wasteful as it seems, get results? After all, if it saves lives, you can't put a price on someone's LIFE, can you? Here's how the study answers THAT question: "An analysis of Chicago Police Department shooting statistics showed that while shootings have decreased in CeaseFire zones, other non-CeaseFire beats sometimes had greater decreases. CeaseFire does not always operate in the most violent communities."

But what about JOBS? The best social service program is a JOB (especially a social service job), right? People commit crimes because they don't have a J-O-B, or so the story goes. So what if all this money goes to the community in the truest sense, by creating economic opportunity? Wouldn't THAT make it worthwhile? "...the community partners only hired 69 percent of the required number of outreach workers over the duration of the contract. Additionally, community partners failed to hire over 398 worker-months positions over the course of the contracts. Chicago Project staff charged with monitoring the community partners took little action to ensure compliance with the agreements."

Oh, and in case anyone has forgotten what the centerpiece of the WHOLE CEASEFIRE PROJECT IS, let me remind you: THE SKILLED OUTREACH WORKERS. So we essentially have a multi-million-dollar program that doesn't account for its funding properly, goes over budget anyway, fails to produce meaningful results when compared with other areas of the city, and doesn't hire enough people to do the very job it claims will be so successful.

Did I mention that its funds aren't properly documented and it's over budget? Sorry if I keep stressing that, but the report seems to think this is important too. "DOC officials stated that...the only role of the DOC was to 'pass through' the funds for CeaseFire WITH NO MONITORING OF RESULTS OR EXPENDITURES." (emphasis mine. Deep breaths.)

And you start to wonder why certain Minneapolis activists are complaining about not getting this money. This boondoggle can stay in Chicago, and if we're going to spend a few million on public safety initiatives, let's start by putting more cops on the street.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Shoplifters - How a Community Cannibalizes Itself

Post by the Hawthorne Hawkman, image from the Jane's Addiction blog.

On the Upper Willard Homewood (U-WHO) listserv, shoplifting at CVS was a recent concern raised by members. I've also been hearing buzz that Cub Foods on Broadway is really struggling financially from the costs of shoplifting - both paying off-duty police for prevention, and the loss of items successfully stolen. Some of the same sources say this was a large reason why the Target store left Broadway several years ago.

Folks, if this problem continues, our community faces the very real threat of losing core services and employers. I won't pretend to know the answers for how to stop this from happening, but I do hope to provide a forum where this can be discussed. What products are being stolen from stores in our community, especially on Broadway? For what purpose? Surely businesses like Cub and CVS factor in some degree of shoplifting into their bottom line. So how much worse is the problem here, that financial viability is threatened? Who are the people doing the stealing? What can be done to stop this?

As I am able, I will be going to these two businesses and discussing these very topics with the managers. In the meantime, I encourage North by Northside readers to weigh in as well.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hawkman Supports NoMi Art - and Vice Versa

Post and photo below by the Hawthorne Hawkman. Above image from Pat Carney's Northway Community Trust 2010 FLOW photo album.

"What do you do to support the arts?" was a question asked of Senator Linda Higgins and Raymond Dehn during their contest for the DFL nomination. The questioner seemed to be looking for an answer about what each candidate would do to support some kind of arts programs. And although I supported Sen. Higgins, Dehn gave what is perhaps one of my favorite answers I've ever heard a candidate offer:

"Well, I buy art."

We have an abundance of art in NoMi, from the renovated Capri Theater to the Northside Arts Collective, to FLOW, to a photographers' studio in Hawthorne, to splendid works by the Goddess of Glass (including windows at Dr. Otieno's office on Broadway), to The Warren in the far reaches of northern NoMi, and even a rather famous poet resident, Bryan Thao Worra - not to mention various youth programs. And the best way that you or I can support that art is to patronize those places or buy from those artists.

Go and see a play or a concert, buy a painting or a book. Hop over to the 42nd Avenue Station for some music. We can support our own artists in our own community and not wait for some state program to prop them up. I did just that when I asked Ken Farkash to paint "The Hawthorne Hawkman," shown above.

Like all iconic superheroes, this painting has an origin story, which begins...

...when I locked my keys out of my car. Really.

One Friday night, I was leaving my car and my keys fell out of my pocket. I didn't notice until the instant after the door was shut that they were lying on the seat. I called up my good friend Connie, mainly to vent about what a boneheaded maneuver I had just pulled. She got in touch with Ken Farkash, and they both came over to help me break into my own vehicle.

Under almost any other circumstance, I would have been happy to find out that my car is of a high enough quality that one can't just pop the lock open with a slim jim. But just the once, it would have been nice. We spent maybe an hour, with each of us trying the apparatus on all four doors. I was in the midst of contemplating which would be less expensive, a locksmith on a Friday night, or tossing a brick through a window and repairing that on Monday.

"I've got an idea," said Ken, and he went home to pick up some of his tools he uses for painting and other artwork. In order to avoid posting a "here's how you break into my car" manual all over the internet, let me just say that he used a welding rod in a rather ingenuous fashion, and presto! My car was unlocked in seconds.

I was so impressed, both with Ken's artwork and his PERFECTLY LEGAL and ultimately harmless break-in skills that I immediately told him I wanted that particular welding rod to be incorporated into a piece of artwork, and I'd buy that from him.

Once again, here's that painting. Like DaVinci's "Last Supper" or something Bjork would wear, the piece is rich in symbolism.

The central figure is of course the artist's rendition of the Hawthorne Hawkman, complete with an "HH" on the belt buckle. Ken was thoughtful enough to make him look like my favorite comic book character, Daredevil (who, interestingly enough, pretty much dedicates himself to one particular neighborhood). The aforementioned metal rod is incorporated as asked. The HH stands triumphant over illegal car repairs, as he fends off evil phone books, and of course the house needs no explanation. All of this happens with the Mississippi River nearby and the city skyline from Farview Park - both highlights of the Hawthorne Neighborhood - as a backdrop.

Thanks Ken, for your contributions to NoMi art!

Monday, August 9, 2010

NoMi Needs a Bike Shop!

Post and bottom two photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman. Top photo by the Irving Inquisition.

I've advocated for a bike shop in NoMi before, and I'm repeating that call now. With the exception of books, movies, and music, I make most of my purchases within the confines of NoMi. But when I picked up a bike, I got it off of craigslist. This bike has become something of a microcosm of money I COULD HAVE spent right here, if I had the choice.

First off, it cost about $70 used, but a new bike of this brand would likely run $250-$350. I may be a rare breed, but if I had the choice, I would have spent the extra $200 or so if it meant supporting a local business. Even so, I still needed to find some bells and whistles for it. For instance, what you see below was initially the mechanism for keeping the bicycle secure:

This tiny lock keeps the seat attached to the body of the bike. I've added an extra layer of protection by forgetting the combination. Even the most aggressive interrogation techniques couldn't get it from me. However, that led to the necessity of picking up an actual lock, which I had to do at the Midtown Greenway bike shop.

While there, I also bought an attachment for a water bottle, a sport drink, and some snacks. The grand total there was $50. We're now approaching $400 I could have spent in NoMi if we had a bike shop.

My bike also has another unique feature - a customized headlight.

It bears pointing out that the previous owner lives in Loring Park, and put this attachment on because people kept on stealing his actual light. His solution was to make this look as junky as possible in the hope that no one would bother anymore, and clearly it worked. But outside of the theft-ridden Loring Park neighborhood, perhaps it's time to make my bike look a little nicer.

Last but not least, my chain fell off several weeks ago and ever since then there has not been much of a correlation between the numbers on my gearshift and the actual gear my bike seems to be in. I probably did a poor job of reattaching it and the bike needs a tune-up. I know a few people who can do this for me, but IF WE HAD A BIKE SHOP IN NOMI I would just go straight there and pay for the service.

I'm not even much of an avid biker, and already this is $500 in one year that I would have spent in my neighborhood if I had the chance. I'm sure NoMi is full of people like me who would do the same.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Meta-Recycling in NoMi

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman

Ok, I'll admit it. For a long time, I never recycled. I'm not AGAINST recycling per se, I just felt like there were only so many things I could allow myself to care about or be emotionally invested in. Recycling didn't make the cut. I just thought that saving the planet was one of those responsibilities you could pass on to someone else. Like a bounced check or a crying baby.

But then John Hoff just wouldn't let up. He kept on pestering me and pestering me to start recycling until finally I gave in. There was a bit of a problem, though. I called 311 over and over again for several months, and they just didn't get me a recycling bin. I have to say, it's one of the few times in my experience that 311 didn't EVENTUALLY come through.

So after a while, one evening at Good Sports Bar & Grill, I mentioned to John that I STILL hadn't received my recycling container from the city after many months. John takes "green" initiatives to some rather interesting extremes. For instance, he spreads the contents of tea bags across his backyard because it makes him feel at one with the earth. He also coordinated an extensive online campaign to convince the writers of the TV show "Heroes" to recycle the same damned plot device four seasons in a row.

Never one to lose momentum when someone is willing to recycle, John immediately gave me one of his bins to use at my place. Now I go through maybe one Cub Foods' bag of trash a week. If I get around to composting, that will decrease even more. I just love that I'm recycling a recycling container, thanks to a fellow revitalizer!

Welcome to North by Northside!

Post and photo by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

This is the inaugural post of the North by Northside blog, so thanks for stopping by. Here's what one can expect from this site. First off, this is the personal blog of Jeff Skrenes, aka "The Hawthorne Hawkman." My activities as Housing Director of the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council can be found over here. But on North by Northside, I'll write about other NoMi issues and items that either will help the community or sometimes merely interest me.

I'll get a bit policy wonkish, to be sure. And while I want to keep a relatively positive tone, there are certain people (like slumlords) or things (phone books) that will earn a spot on my wall of shame. (Note to self: get a wall of shame up on this blog.) I won't be nice to them. And then there is the other problem we seem to have on NoMi blogs as of late. I'll have none of that here.

Since the site is under some construction, readers may see a few changes in the format during this initial phase. For instance, one item I hope to add in the near future is a Twitter feed. My goal with the Twitter feed is to encourage fellow revitalizers to email or text little things of big importance happening in NoMi. I'll put as many of those up as I can, and they may provide fodder for additional posts.

Ultimately, the goal of this site will be to make my community a better place, whether that's through lifting up the positive, offering scathing criticism, or asking tough questions. Readers are encouraged to comment on what you'd like to see.