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Would It Work Here? : Cities Grappling With Some of the Same Problems Facing Central L.A. Have Found Effective Solutions

September 12, 1993|LUCILLE RENWICK

In Chicago, car pools of once-unemployed workers from the job-depleted city travel to the suburbs to $7-an-hour, entry-level jobs. In Newark, N.J., serious community commitment has proved that neighborhoods can revitalize themselves and thrive.

In the quest to rebuild Los Angeles' inner city, solutions might be found in cities thousands of miles away--cities that suffer from the same social ills, from illiteracy and escalating school dropout rates to teen-age pregnancies and unemployment.

In each city, community-based organizations and philanthropic agencies tackle several problems at a time.

"The face of poverty today is radically different than 20 years ago, because there are multiple barriers versus single barriers," said James Johnson of the UCLA Center for the Study of Urban Poverty. "So when you talk about how to intervene in someone's life, you're talking about multiple strategies."

Although the organizations featured in this article use varying methods to advance their projects, each has thrived on a common goal: to first empower the community to change its situation.

"Sometimes people just need to know they have the power to make a difference in their own lives," said Msgr. William Linder, founder of the New Community Corp. in Newark. "This can happen anywhere."

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Shelter: On any given night in Los Angeles, as many as 39,000 homeless people are on the streets or in shelters, according to a report by Shelter Partnership Inc. More than 6,000 families are homeless here, nearly 4,500 of them children.

NEW ORLEANS

As cities grow more needy and resources dwindle, colleges, hospitals and other institutions are being tapped to help rejuvenate their communities.

Many institutions and neighborhoods have developed their own community development partnerships, mapping out plans to rebuild housing developments and establish job training programs.

Since 1986, several of these partnerships have been financially supported by the Structured Employment and Economic Development Corp. of New York (Seedco), a Ford Foundation intermediary that revitalizes low- and moderate-income neighborhoods by enlisting the help of universities, hospitals and other urban institutions.

In black communities in the South, where there has been a history of cooperation between universities and their neighborhoods, Seedco has created and supported partnerships between the schools and neighboring communities since 1990.

For example, in New Orleans, for the past two years, Xavier University has been working to spruce up the 200-home neighborhood called Xavier Triangle that surrounds the school.

"We've started small, with a block watch, but the most important thing is that we've built a pretty tight relationship with the community that at one time was pretty hostile toward Xavier," said Sybil Morial, dean of continuing education at the school.

In much of their work, Seedco officials have focused on funding partnerships around the country that they believe have established fruitful projects in their communities.

In Los Angeles, Seedco has given more than $100,000 to USC and the United Neighborhood Council to fund programs to bring more supermarkets to the area surrounding the university and increase community participation.

It also has given about $50,000 to the Drew Economic Development Corp. for its housing development projects.

"What Seedco is doing is very instrumental, but they aren't panaceas," said Ezekiel Mobley, executive director of the United Neighborhood Council in South-Central.

"They're just like a tool . . . and you have to figure out how it fits best in what you're building," he said.

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