Monday, December 26, 2011

A Sign Of Hope

Sometimes people amaze me in a good way, and this is one of those times. Three returning vets decided to make a difference in a Baltimore neighborhood. Against pretty daunting odds, they are succeeding.

Operation Oliver, which began in July, is a one-year commitment to the neighborhood, the veterans say. It involves cleaning up alleys, rehabilitating homes, organizing volunteers and notifying police about illegal dumping sites and drug dealing.

To say the idea has caught on would be an understatement. Word of the intensive yearlong service project has spread throughout Maryland — and the nation.

Some veterans, such as Earl Johnson, a former Army Ranger who served in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, have moved into the neighborhood. Others, such as Jeremy Johnson and Blake, live elsewhere but visit Oliver frequently. Nearly 1,000 volunteers, including more than 100 veterans, have joined the effort. ...

The improvement is noticeable. Nearly 50 homes are being rehabilitated through Earl Johnson's organization, the One Green Home at a Time Foundation, another of the partners. Five tons of trash have been hauled away, an area that was once a site of prostitution is now a playground, an organic garden is planned for a weed-filled lot, and the veterans take residents on weekly job-hunting trips.

The neighborhood of about 5,000 people is predominantly black, and more than 70% of Oliver's households earn less than $25,000 a year. Of its 2,600 properties, more than 1,100 are listed as vacant by the city.

Because city and states can't or won't do the work necessary to rehabilitate such neighborhoods, the people had to do their own community redevelopment and had to do so without the funds which too often go to gentrification projects and strip malls. Instead of poor families being forced out, they are taking part in their neighborhood.

Glibertarian and other conservative sorts will probably use this as an example of why government assistance in such projects is unnecessary, that the people are capable of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps. That's too facile an explanation. The people of that neighborhood needed the help and the encouragement provided by those returning veterans precisely because they had been forgotten and ignored by their own government. Now they're reclaiming what was theirs all along.

Good on them, and good on those vets.

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