Shalom Project reaching out to Indianapolis' most troubled neighborhoods

Vacant homes are part of the crime problem in several Indianapolis neighborhoods.

Reaching out to people who live in one of the city's more troubled neighborhoods is the goal of the Shalom Project.

It's the latest in the city's ongoing initiative to take back the six neighborhoods with the highest crime rates and it comes from a community partner.

Tuesday afternoon, Public Safety Director Troy Riggs applauded Pastor Jay Height and the Shepherd Community Center for taking on new challenges.

"This is one example where the Department of Public Safety isn't leading, but it's following and supporting," Riggs said.

Shepherd Community Center has played an important role in its east side neighborhood for 30 years. It has a school, pre-K program, and helps adults with jobs, housing and life skills.

It serves more than 500 families on a regular basis, but mostly through programs at its community center. Height says with the Shalom Project it intends to reach out to those who "may not feel empowered to ask for help."

He said they'll start by going door to door in the project area, which includes about 15,000 residents, and asking people not just about their needs, but how to make the community better.

"IMPD is doing a fabulous job, but they corral behavior and we can change that," Height said. "It starts with school, the community center and churches."

He said a big part of it is improving "access" to things like food, health care and safe housing. For one, Eskenazi Hospital will establish a mobile health unit in the neighborhood starting next month.

Height said Project Shalom will also renovate 20 homes in the area this year "and sell to those people who want to live in this neighborhood."

Long-time resident Chris Staab was glad to hear that. For him, the vacant/abandoned house issue is huge. On his block alone, he counts 40 such properties.

He calls them not just a blight on the area, but a safety issue.

"The biggest concern is that kids with nothing to do will see an open window and crawl inside there," Staab said. "I'm thrilled there's a new partner and we need more partners. It's the only way to develop them and get them into responsible hands."

Height said what the Shalom Project is really about is instilling hope, "that things can be different, that we don't have to accept crime and those preying on the neighborhood, but can instead be empowered" and "work toward making it a better place."