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September 21, 2017

Neighbors Reduce Crime by 75%!

Mary Chalmers

For decades, Shelton Heights was a quiet community of small homes and a trailer park nestled in the curved bank of the railroad tracks at Washington St. and Rockville Rd. on the west side. In 2007, the trailer park was a vibrant part of the neighborhood. However, after the 2008 death of a trailer park co-owner, management of the park declined, and long-term residents began to move out. By spring 2015, after the second owner died in late 2014, “it was complete chaos. We were afraid to open our doors and afraid someone would be found dead.” Squatters, drugs, prostitution, and illegal dumping had completely taken over.

Frustrated with always calling the police and nothing changing, they asked the police to do something.  The police responded, “No, you need to do something.”  And the neighbors did!

Neighbors Debbie Parish and Sherry Belden started talking about what they could do. Debbie noted, “The key was not trying to do it all alone – it took a group to make a difference.” Debbie added she was “mad enough to bite my nails, so it was no problem to stand up,” and when she did, she found others willing to stand up too. They began going door-to-door and meeting neighbors, and by June 2015, the neighbors had come together and started a Crime Watch. An unexpected benefit of the? Crime Watch was it connected them to other agencies who could help. Immediately, the Marion County Public Health Department shut down the trailer park and removed the squatters. After that, the residents “kept the squatters and prostitutes out by calling the police whenever anyone stepped foot on the property.” Others who helped included City government and the Mayor’s Office, elected officials, Mary Milz at WTHR, and non-profits including Indy Gateway Inc. (a West Side community development corporation) and Indianapolis Neighborhood Resource Center (INRC), among others. The neighbors’ determination and networking, along with the support from other institutions and organizations, enabled them to do what had seemed impossible: on September 19, 2016, the trailer park was torn down! 

Now they are partnering with Indy Gateway to purchase the park from the City’s Land Bank, and have applied for a KIBI Green Space Grant to add a bench and other amenities to the park. In preparation, neighbors have organized several major cleanups of the park area and celebrated with cookouts, games, and conversation. 

Mary Chalmers, a Neighborhood Development Specialist at INRC, first met Debbie Parish in a meeting in late 2016. Since then, Mary has discussed challenges and opportunities in the area with Debbie, including proposed new businesses, some of which the neighbors opposed and were able to stop. Mary also invited Debbie to share their story at Neighbor Power Indy 2017; Debbie participated in the NPI presenter training at INRC and, with Mary’s encouragement and support, shared a powerful story of neighbors reclaiming their neighborhood.

Today, they are enjoying their more vibrant, engaged, and healthy neighborhood, where kids ride their bikes, neighbors talk and take the initiative to help, and the crime rate has declined 75%. At National Night Out in August, the neighbors came out and fully enjoyed the conversation and activities, and they filled a car trunk with food for a food pantry. Clearly, they are enjoying the benefits of getting to know their neighbors and working and playing together.