The 2900 block of Webster Avenue in the Hill District doesn’t look like it’s suffering. Most of the properties are in decent shape, and day in and day out, it’s fairly quiet.
Rhonda Lockett, a lifelong resident except for a stint in Washington, D.C., said most of her neighbors go to church and many are educated and employed.
Yet 75 percent of the block — 36 households — have agreed to open their doors and their lives to community organizers, medical and behavioral health professionals and to each other for the opportunity to get relief from long-term emotional stress and trauma.
Led by the Rev. Paul Abernathy, director of FOCUS Pittsburgh, a social services agency in the Hill, Pittsburgh’s pilot effort in what is known as Trauma-Informed Community Development has few models nationally and all are too new to report long-term results.
The FOCUS team said the Hill District project would be the nation’s first to try a block-by-block approach at healing an entire neighborhood.
Trauma-Informed Community Development grew out of research that found underlying causes of violence, homelessness, joblessness, poverty, addiction and abuse in exposure to chronic emotional stress and trauma. The premise is that if people can get help digging out from trauma and start to heal, they can get their own traction to improve their relationships, the well-being of their block and what happens on it, Rev. Abernathy said.
“Trauma is the most challenging problem we have” in the African-American community, he said. “We are seeing people get jobs and lose jobs, get housing and lose housing, not because they are stupid or bad but because they are wounded. We want them to be healthy enough to sustain opportunities.”
The project has $250,000 in funding from the McAuley Ministries Foundation, the grant-making arm of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System, and Neighborhood Allies, an advocacy nonprofit in community development. Subsequent blocks will be chosen based on the interest of residents and the availability of funding.
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