Inner City Diary
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Have we really made a difference? - Yes!
March 23, 2003
Ten years ago, a reporter asked me a disturbing question.

“I’ve heard lots about what you and your church are doing in this neighbourhood. But we still report some of the same troubles coming from this area. Can you really say you’ve made a difference? Has the community really gotten better over the last 10 years?”

I don’t think she was motivated by a desire to embarrass or offend. But her question has haunted and motivated much of my work in the West End of Winnipeg.

At the time, I had been serving a tiny church and little chunk of the West End for about ten years. I reflected on her question as well as the crime scene which prompted the interview.

I responded, “I’m not really sure how much has changed. There are even times I figure some things have gotten worse. But in the end, I know we’re doing the right things. And I believe this area would be far worse if we weren’t doing what we’re doing.”

The interview concluded. My answer was sincere, but her question lingered.

Ten years later, I’m currently preparing for the annual general meeting and review of our church. Unlike some churches, if our church no longer believed my work was good enough, members could take a vote and give me walking papers on the spot.

I’ve never been real concerned with getting fired. But that reporter’s question has never left me.

If she asked me the same question today, I’d have a different answer. “Yes, things have definitely gotten better.”

Community policing continues to improve the cooperation between the community and police. Initially, there were some problems with education of a skeptical bureaucracy, cooperation between vice cops, drugs cops, general patrol and community officers. A cynical community and determined criminals didn’t help matters either.

But the tide has turned. Now even the province has found a way to support the cleaning up of neighbourhoods with the Safer Communities investigators – who work really well with city cops. We’ve gotten to know the names of our community police officers. Their relationships in the community have actually prevented some crimes before they happened. Numerous police drug busts, prostitution sweeps and raids of trouble houses have boosted the confidence of citizens and undermined some of the cockiness of crooks.

Housing revitalization has taken a quantum leap forward through the tri-level Winnipeg Housing and Homelessness Initiative. Picture this miracle – three levels of government actually cooperating to work on the housing crisis in our neighbourhoods. They called it a “single-window” solution to housing problems.

Back in the neighbourhood, we were skeptical. “It may be a single window – but it’s a tri-pain (sic) window.” Three levels of government with three different forms, bureaucracies and contracts created occasional tensions. It took awhile to work out the kinks, but thanks to everyone’s patience, Winnipeg is now an example to the rest of the country in addressing urban housing problems.

Some of the city’s health inspectors have moved their offices into the neighbourhood. Fire inspectors are spending more time in the area. Some building inspectors are working well with renovators in the community. Usually, in our neighbourhood, these folks have been solely the bearers of bad news. Contrary to the opinions of some, they get tired of being the bad guys. Several have commented, “It’s actually exciting to see some of the good changes in the area.”

Perhaps the most encouraging change is the growing number of residents involved in fighting crime, fixing homes and restoring the inner city. More people are realizing they can all do something to improve the situation. People aren’t sitting back and stubbornly waiting for government social workers and “activists” to always take the lead.

The other day, I received a FedEx delivery at the church. While signing for the package, the delivery guy starting talking about the neighbourhood. Instead of trash-talking the old West End, he commented, “You guys are fixing up some real nice homes in the area. I never thought I’d say this, but when I start looking to buy a home, I might come talk to you about buying in this neighbourhood. I’m seeing the whole community start to pick up.”

I’ve come to grips with the fact I can’t change the world. I’ve even learned to cope with times when reality mocks my idealism, and doubt rocks my faith. I mine encouragement from small accomplishments and incremental achievements.

That reporter’s question is less haunting, but still highly motivational for me.
Copyright 2003
Rev. Harry Lehotsky
Rev. Harry Lehotsky is Director of New Life Ministries, a community ministry in the inner-city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
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New Life Ministries
514 Maryland Street
Winnipeg, Mb R3G 1M5
(204) 775-4929