Neighborhood associations are helping bring people together to create solutions for Minneapolis....
Not every neighborhood issue makes headline news. But some community members in Minneapolis feel like serious concerns are being ignored by the media and their local leaders too. When individual community voices aren't being heard, what can neighbors do?
They need to find someone who will listen. Neighborhood associations are that someone who can help find a point of unity and amplify collective neighbor voices.
We had a problem property in my neighborhood. For months, neighbors were reporting ongoing public safety issues multiple times via city channels (911, 311 and the Ward 10 office). The situation progressively escalated with no action being taken. Neighbors expressed being afraid for their safety and frustrated with the lack of action in resolving these issues.
This has become a common refrain in Minneapolis. There aren't enough police to handle all the 911 calls. Crime has risen. Public confidence has fallen. And many people are feeling angry and powerless about public safety. They don't know where to go for help.
Enter neighborhood associations. Minneapolis has 70 neighborhood organizations, and many have stepped up their efforts to help their neighbors and connect residents to city services. The Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association, or LHENA, which represents the neighborhood where I live, coalesced all of the neighbor concerns about this problem property and contacted key people in the city who could help. Action now is being taken, and LHENA will apply pressure until the issue is all resolved.
LHENA has been helping neighbors and building community since it was founded in 1970.
When the pandemic shut down the world in 2020, LHENA neighbors provided mutual aid to neighbors in need, making grocery runs, pharmacy pickups, connections to resources or services, and check-in phone calls. Dozens of volunteers helped provide support and resources for dozens who needed help. This project has evolved into a volunteer network with a vast community of volunteers serving others through community connection and expanding to initiatives such as snow shoveling, ridesharing, coat drives, community events, and more.
A LHENA Food Share program, created and run by neighbor-volunteers, ensures that no neighbor has to choose between paying rent and eating. The program offers free groceries twice a month to anyone who needs food in the Wedge neighborhood (bound by Lyndale, Hennepin and Lake). This means one bag of fresh fruit/vegetables and one bag of pantry items.
The numbers in 2020 alone were impressive — 120 households served (with 70 households receiving food each time), 75 volunteers, over $10,000 raised (from 65-plus donations ) to support the program through 2021. Scout Workshop (a coworking space on Lyndale) hosted the program in the summer/fall of 2020, using the site for assembly and pickups. ArcStone (a full-service digital agency on Lyndale) became the new home last winter. Both are local businesses, and the whole program, which is still going strong, shows what can be done when neighbors come together.
Volunteers are the lifeblood of any neighborhood association, and giving back to the community is how we make our communities stronger. I have seen the value of giving back firsthand, serving in neighborhood volunteer roles as a LHENA board member (since August 2019) and current president (since May 2020). The goal is to build a community in which neighbors can live with each other, not just next to each other.
Crime and safety has been the number one issue in our neighborhood in recent weeks. Serious issues in Uptown and elsewhere have prompted LHENA leadership to field neighbor concerns and advocate on their behalf with city council offices, regulatory services and the Minneapolis Police Department. LHENA staff and volunteers have become a conduit to proactively work toward finding solutions.
LHENA is just one neighborhood association in Minneapolis. Imagine what we could accomplish if neighborhood organizations worked together to find solutions to common community problems. Funding (as it sometimes is) has become a new challenge as neighborhood associations no longer receive as much annual money from the city and are looking for new revenue streams to maintain long-term sustainability.
Now more than ever, Minneapolis needs connectors for our communities. Neighborhood associations can be leaders in connecting neighbors and helping the city meet the challenges of this moment. Whatever neighborhood you call home, we are all interconnected. That is why we all need to work together to help build bridges, restore trust and find solutions.
Our future depends on it.
Eric Ortiz is the president of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association. When he’s not organizing community solutions, he’s the director of media for Granite Media and writing bilingual children’s books with his kids. Their first book was “How the Zookalex Saved the Village,” available in English and Spanish on Amazon.
This column is from the Southwest Connector, a new local newspaper in Minneapolis.