There could be more to the story
When I read about the plight of Rik Blake, the veteran who bought a house sight-unseen on the North side, I had mixed feelings. Of course I felt sorry for him; but then again, buying a home without due diligence is a risky proposition. There’s enough information and bad press out there about Youngstown to provide some inkling of possible problems.
But I don’t believe our reputation for crime and corruption represents the true heart and soul of this town. When I read about the outpouring of help for Mr. Blake, I was reminded that this city has many, many people with enormous hearts and generous spirits.
So, what was it about Mr. Blake’s situation that mobilized these people? The story in The Vindicator pictured a guy in a crisis situation that was thrust upon him. In any crisis, say a tornado or tsunami, our instinct is to take action. But after 20 or 30 similar disasters, that sense of urgency disappears. We begin to suffer from crisis fatigue
When it comes to neighborhood renewal, I believe the people of Youngstown suffer from crisis fatigue. The city has notoriously overlooked enforcement of property maintenance, and properties have been allowed to fall into dangerous disrepair. Depending on your viewpoint, the fault lies with the city (lack of manpower, disorganization, or corruption), the economy (joblessness and poverty), or with the residents themselves (lazy low-lifes who refuse to care for their homes). In any case, as the blight continues to spread and entire neighborhoods are written off, the situation feels overwhelming and impossible to fix.
But Blake’s situation shows that ordinary citizens can make a difference, when properly focused. In every neighborhood there are people like Rik Blake who have made mistakes, suffered some loss or disability, or just grown too old to help themselves. Why should this outpouring of help on the North Side be a one-time effort? Why can’t we use this example as a starting point to mobilize similar efforts for others who want their homes to look better and be safer, but can’t do, or afford to do, the work themselves?
It will be a wonderful thing when Mr. Blake’s house is rehabbed and inhabitable. But as it stands now, when it’s done, the truth feels more like this: one down, 3,000 more to go.
Liz Hill, Youngstown