Central PA's LGBT News Source
While fatal shootings spiked in November in the city of Harrisburg, the violence came amid a year of substantially reduced homicides.
The capital city logged four homicides in November, including the high-profile shooting deaths of two sisters, making it the deadliest month this year. The last time the city recorded that many killings in one month was August of 2016.
But even with the violent uptick from this November, the city’s homicide tally so far this year is 11, compared to 16 homicides at the same time last year and 18 homicides at the same time in 2015.
Holiday months can be bad for violent crime for reasons police don’t fully understand, said Police Chief Thomas Carter.
“There seem to be more robberies, with people trying to get fast money,” Carter said.
The deadliest months last year were July and August, with four killings each. But in 2015, the deadliest month again was November with four killings.
To try to reduce violent crime, Carter said police have focused specifically this year on taking guns off the street in a collaboration with the ATF. As of Nov. 20, police had confiscated 284 guns this year, said police Capt. Gabriel Olivera.
Last October regional media outlets reported that Harrisburg’s Allison Hill had helicopters buzzing above its streets. Police Capt. Olivera tweeted “This is just one of those many things we have done ... just more visible.” Proactive policing.
A bullet-point summary of Allison Hill would include –
• Historic neighborhoods, 6,000 residents
• 1/3 of residents under 18
• A recent jump in shootings
• Stunning architecture
• A United Nations of cultures
The Central Voice asked people who currently live, or who have lived, in Allison Hill to share their experiences. (If anyone reading this story would like to share their experiences, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Current resident: Amanda Arbour
Allison Hill resident, Amanda Arbour, says she first came to the region to attend Messiah College. “Through my involvement with their service-learning center I got to know many individuals and organizations in Harrisburg - and particularly Allison Hill,” she says.
She moved to The Hill eight years ago “because while the challenges of poverty, blight, and racism are very clear, it is also clear that there are so many dedicated people who have committed themselves to this neighborhood”. She “wanted to be part of that - not with any illusions of ‘saving’ the neighborhood.” Arbour recognized “both the beauty and the brokenness” and has “a desire to learn from and work with those who were already residents.”
What has Arbour learned in her years as an Allison Hill resident?
“I have learned so much about the history of the neighborhood, which is critical to understanding the challenges that it faces today,” she says.
“Allison Hill used to be a thriving neighborhood, but a combination of deindustrialization and white flight has forever changed the face of the neighborhood,” Arbour points out. Like many urban areas, the local economy was heavily reliant on manufacturing. “All along the 17th Street Corridor you can still see remnants of what was a thriving economic center,” she notes. “But when the factories started shutting down, moving to suburbs or overseas, the loss of those jobs was devastating,” she says. Allison Hill is still struggling, like other hollowed out economic hubs, with a lack of employment opportunities.
Arbour says white flight was also a significant factor changing the Hill’s composition, similar to larger city patterns. “Whether drivers were following jobs to suburbs, leaving in the wake of the race riots or the 1972 Agnes Flood, there was a huge exodus of white people who took their resources with them,” Arbour notes.
“Learning this history, how deindustrialization shattered the Hill’s economic core and how white flight took away resources and people has really helped me to better understand the context in which our current challenges operate,” Arbour says.
What about stigma?
Arbour says, “There are rampant stereotypes and stigmas attached to living on the Hill.”
She frequently defends her neighborhood to those with negative perceptions. When people find out she lives there “they get this stricken look on their faces and whisper, ‘Do you feel safe there? Aren’t you afraid of getting shot?’”
“No, I am not afraid of getting shot,” Arbour says.
In the eight years she’s lived on The Hill, she’s “never had a major issue. You have to be careful no matter where you live, and while we may have higher rates of certain kinds of crimes, I am quick to remind people that we are also the most densely populated neighborhood in the city.”
Her point is that when you have a lot of people concentrated in a small area, that influences crime rates.
“I urge people to be very careful about jumping to conclusions about someplace they have little or no personal experience with,” Arbour says.
“We have many wonderful people, food, green spaces and art,” she points out. She challenges people to “take some time to get to know the neighborhood and people, instead of buying into the stigmas and stereotypes.”
What do residents of Allison Hill not know about people in other city neighborhoods?
Harrisburg is a small city and Arbour thinks “there can be tensions between neighborhoods...so people who live on the Hill might have a negative perception> of Midtown or Uptown, and vice versa.”
“I think it stems from a number of different things, including competition for resources, class and racial segregations, how the high schools used to be separated. Some of it is based on history and current realities, and some comes from stereotypes and assumptions,” Arbour opines.
Allison Hill gets a bad rap most of the time, Arbour says, but she is “proud to live here, despite challenges of poverty, blight, and racism. This neighborhood and people are resilient - not giving up, but continuing to work every day to confront those challenges and make it a better place.”
Arbour is executive director of the LGBT Community Center in Harrisburg.
Former resident: Brendan Cavanaugh
Former Allison Hill resident Brendan Cavanaugh was born in Pittsburgh and raised in Butler County. He studied graphic design at West Virginia Wesleyan. Cavanaugh had been a resident of the Hill for eight months.
“I am part of a Christian organization that moved to Harrisburg with a focus on worship, prayer, and doing outreach,” Cavanaugh tells Central Voice.
He lived in Allison Hill doing community outreach for eight months until he got married but continued “with my outreach activity for little over two years after getting married,” he says.
Allison Hill is not the place the media makes it out to be, Cavanaugh says.
“Sure, if you go looking for trouble, you’re sure to find it. But I encountered beautiful and friendly people. A resilient community that stands together in hard times,” he says.
Cavanaugh wants people to know that “Allison Hill is a beautiful community that has value, worth, and a destiny.” He believes “that the tongue is something that speaks both life and death.” He cautions people “to be careful about how we describe places. If you speak harshly, it’ll be all you ever see. If you speak love and look for the gold inside a person or place, you’re sure to find it.”
Cavanaugh says that his most significant learning after living in Allison Hill is that “Tacos Mi Tierra and Tacos la Barca are the two BEST places to get tacos in the city.”
Agency executive: Jennifer Wintermyer
Originally from the Youngstown, Ohio area, Jennifer Wintermyer is executive director, Tri County Community Action, located in Allison Hill since 1992. Having worked in the Pittsburgh region for many years, she is familiar with the “rust belt” and after moving here in 2011 she now lives in New Cumberland.
“I’m attracted to this neighborhood so much because it reminds me of some of the older neighborhoods back home. There is such a strong sense of community and belonging. There’s a desire to rebuild but not replace its history,” Wintermyer says. TCCA’s understanding that “strong families need strong communities” attracted her to the agency.
One strength is that “residents come together by themselves, without agency or government prompting them to tackle tough issues,” Wintermyer says. For example, Allison Hill has organized block watch groups, multiple resident associations, a strong faith-based community, and regular safety patrols throughout the neighborhood. “And they are working. In South Allison Hill, we’ve seen a 31% decline since 2013 in Part I Crimes (murder, robbery, burglary, assault, rape, theft).
“People living outside this neighborhood often have negative impressions of its safety,” she says. “Crime is down, neighbors are rebuilding neighborhoods. Agreeing with Cavanaugh, “We have some of the best taco places around. Allison Hill is as friendly a neighborhood as any other in which I’ve lived or worked,” Wintermyer says.
Like Arbour, Wintermyer says Allison Hill residents are “incredibly resilient, creative, motivated, and diverse.” She points out there are people of all races, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, ages, and socio-economic statuses who are all dedicated to their community.” Harrisburg residents living in other neighborhoods are not any different than Allison Hill residents, she observes.
Over 700 community members took part in the recent Heart of the Hill community planning process to develop community revitalization plans for their neighborhood, Wintermyer notes.
“I can easily name at least eight new small businesses that have opened here in the past three years, all locally-owned,” Wintermyer says.
Each neighborhood has its own personality, its own challenges, and its own strengths Wintermyer says.
“I think Allison Hill residents have learned that only by unifying with each other can the entire city thrive."