Community Canvassing, Day 1

Today, I walked around Decatur neighborhoods, knocking on doors, talking to residents. My goal is to talk with people and learn about problems in our community, so that we may work to solve those problems. I'm a little surprised by my findings - the people I spoke with did not have near as strong opinions as I was hoping for. I went out looking for problems, and found few concerns in the minds of those I spoke with.

Here's my version of what happened, and my best interpretation of people's responses.

Needs / Problems

  • Police need more training in how to deal with citizens (1 person)
  • More police officers (2 people)
  • More proactive police force (1 person)
  • More bus signs (1 person)
  • More behavioral health & nursing home staff (1 person)
  • More passion in the staff at Heritage and nursing homes (1 person)
  • People knocking on doors (1 person)

The good

  • 'Decatur is getting better', mentions the water park (1 person)
  • General positive opinion about Decatur (4 people of 5)
  • I gave away little pumpkins! (2 people)

Next Steps

  • More canvassing
  • More formal organization of problems & possible solutions
  • More formal survey (do we want more pointed questions or a more casual conversation?)
  • A flyer with information for people who want their voice heard in town.
  • More volunteers to help

My experience

I'm nervous. Driving around in the truck. Trying to decide the best place to start. "You've just gotta pick a place and park," I tell myself. So I do. A gentleman gets out of his car and walks inside his house. I get my bearings, I get out, with clipboard in hand, walk slowly up his ramp and knock on his door. He steps outside with a very welcoming demeanor.

I begin. "I'm Reed with Macon Zero. We're looking for ways to help people in our community. Do you have a couple minutes to talk about problems you see and ideas you might have?"

We talk for about five minutes. He thinks well of Decatur. Lived here since he was a kid, and he likes it here. Not a lot of problems to note. He wants to be a police officer, because he'd like to help people. More for the advise and assist approach than the arrest and dictate approach. That was great to hear.

His mother goes to Heritage Behavioral Health, and he thinks they do a pretty good job, but need more staff. He says the staff don't seem passionate about their work. They just come for the pay check, he thinks. He feels similarly about nursing homes. Thinks they need more staffing. Police department? Needs more staff. But they all (police, heritage, and nursing homes) do a pretty good job, he says.

He also commented that Decatur is getting better and noted the water park being built. It was great talking to him - hearing good things about Decatur, seeing that somebody here actually likes it. Many of my friends say bad things about Decatur, so it was uplifting to hear that a long-time resident feels differently. I gave him a small pumpkin.

I'm standing out on the sidewalk taking notes from our conversation. Suddenly there's a young man to my right. I jump! and say "You scared the crap outta me!" and we have a little laugh. I tell him what I'm doing and he turns around to talk with me. A brief conversation. He thinks we need more signs for the bus. Says if you're not from around here (Decatur), you wouldn't know where to go for the bus. There need to be more bus signs. He seems to think well of Decatur, though. I give him a pumpkin too. He seemed happy and said there's a kid at home.

This is a great start. I'm excited. People want to talk to me. They're being friendly! I re-located, aiming for a more challenged neighborhood (both gentleman had said "this is a good neighborhood. Go a little bit 'that way and it gets worse."). The next few people I encountered were less interested. My delivery needs work. I'm nervous, and I don't have the script down, so I'm sure that doesn't help.

I encounter an unfriendly Heckler. As I'm walking away, his neighbor is getting home, and I ask "What about you? You have any opinions about Decatur?" The neighbor declines and goes inside. The heckler laughs. "I'm just trying to help people, man!" I exclaim, with some sadness and disappointment. The heckler goes on to tell me he's been in my position, "You're a good man", he says, and he wishes me God's blessings and a good day.

My spirits are thoroughly dampened, though I appreciate his closing remarks, which I think were genuine.

After another "not interested," I come upon a man sitting outside his apartment building. He's depressed today and struggles with a mild form of schizophrenia. We chat, pretty casually, and he doesn't have much to complain about. His friend, a Vietnam Vet, walks up and joins the conversation. This guy has a LOT to say. This is who I've been looking for, I think. This is what I want!

So we chat for about 15 minutes. There was an officer who came into the secured apartment building looking for somebody. The Vet told the officer that it was a secure building and the officer needs a warrant. During the exchange, the officers pushes the Vet out of his way. "It's assault," says the Vet.

"If you don't call something in, the police don't do anything about it. I can walk around the neighborhood and pick out ten different drug dealers." (loose quote). The police are not proactive enough, he thinks. I ask if they should be walking around neighborhood, but he doesn't like this idea either. He then tells me of an encounter, about 2 years ago, with a bicycle officer who harassed him for identification. "It's a bad neighborhood," the officer says, to justify the harassment.

The Vet and I talk more, talking about drugs in Decatur and gun violence. He thinks the gun violence is largely because of drugs. People need drugs to satisfy their addiction. People need money. Selling drugs is easier than traditional jobs. He doesn't know what to do about it, and I don't either.

He claims that some police officers use dope themselves. He talks about "dope" a lot, which he takes to mean heroin, crack, cocaine. I'm not sure if he lumped weed in that mix, though he certainly thinks cops should be sober when they're carrying a gun around. He thinks they should be drug tested weekly, but doesn't think they are. I'd like to know for sure.

I had 3 good talks at this point. That was my goal for today. On my way back to the truck, I see an old man picking up litter in the street. He's lived there for 60 years and just wants his neighborhood to look good, he tells me. We talk briefly about Decatur. He's disappointed by the handling of Vacant Houses. They board up the lower levels, but leave the second story open. This way, raccoons get in and live in the houses. He thinks if they boarded up all the windows, the houses would last better and we (the City) might not have to waste so much money tearing these houses down. He also thinks we need to sweep our city streets. I think he meant for litter.

  • Reed Sutman Macon Zero President