COLUMBIA MO – Some may assume that low-income residents of run-down, crime-ridden neighbourhoods do not care about their communities. However, research from the University of Missouri suggests otherwise. “We hypothesized that individuals with higher incomes would have higher levels of community care and vigilance, but the opposite was true,” said Mansoo Yu, an assistant professor of social work and public health at MU. “Residents with lower incomes were more likely to care about their communities than their higher-earning neighbors.”
YU studied levels of community care and vigilance among residents living in high-crime, low-income areas. Community care and vigilance refer to individuals’ desires to improve their communities, to take pride in their neighborhoods and to monitor and report unwelcome happenings, such as crimes, near their homes.
The study makes some sense. In Thunder Bay, the Community Action Group in the Windsor Neighbourhood, Evergreen a United Neighbourhood, are clear demonstrations that success comes from engaged and active neighbourhoods. This week, in the Windsor/Picton/Blucher Neighbourhood, TV Ontario and neighbourhood volunteers are building a new playground for the youth in the area.
In the Evergreen neighbourhood, Linda Bruin has been the ‘Momma Bear’ working with residents in the neighbourhood to build the capacity of the area, and to engage the neighbours into community activity. The Community Action Group in Windsor is quarterbacked by Alaina King.
In the Limbrick neighbourhood in Thunder Bay, community residents are starting to work together, along with the City of Thunder Bay to make a difference in their neighbourhood.
At City Hall, one of the unheralded proponents of these successes has been Deputy City Clerk Sheelagh Hendrick. Crime Prevention Council Chair Amy Siciliano has been another strong supporter of the efforts. The Regional Multicultural Youth Council has also been a supporter, putting on barbecues and offering logistic support. Alpha Court in the Boys and Girls Club in Windsor has also been a strong bedrock builder in the neighbourhood.
In some parts of Thunder Bay getting grassroots neighbourhood capacity building, especially in some of the areas of the community, like the Limbrick and Academy neighbourhood means finding and supporting the people willing to step up and help. Helping but not doing, seems to be a path to success.
Yu said he and his colleagues were somewhat surprised by the findings that lower-income residents cared more about their communities.
“One possibility is that, because these individuals had such low incomes, they were more likely to stay in the same area for a long time,” Yu said. “Low-income residents might lack the resources to move to other communities, whereas their neighbors with relatively higher incomes might be more able to move to better neighborhoods with safer environments.”
Yu said community workers and organizers as well as public health professionals should find ways for residents to develop pride in their neighborhoods and encourage them to take actions, such as volunteering, to improve their communities.
“Healthy local environments are related to overall well-being and good mental and physical health,” Yu said. “Individuals tend to feel safer in their local communities when they have low levels of depression and high levels of self-esteem. More work is needed to improve low-income areas into healthy environments so individuals’ well-beings can improve.”
Starting at the neighbourhood level and building relationships, friendships and community awareness is a means of building better, safer and more engaged communities.