Saturday, September 27, 2008

Walking through the Neighborhood

I was asked to help with a literature drop today for a paid sick leave initiative in Milwaukee. We walked a few miles of a very low-income area, dropping off flyers and meeting anyone else who was outside.

First, we had to figure out how we wanted to hit both of these streets. One idea was that we would each take every other house. But to me, that's twice as much walking to cover both sides of both streets. I suggested that we each take a side of the street, and whoever finished the block first circled around to help the other person.

It wasn't the distance we walked that was difficult, it was the stairs up to the front doors of all of these houses! And by my guess, very few of them would meet any kind of inspection standards. The first house I walked up to had concrete steps before the wooden ones up to the house. A piece of concrete was loose and as I picked my foot up to go to the next stair, a big chunk of concrete came out of their staircase! I was pretty happy there was no one sitting on the porch!

The neighborhood itself was interesting. Most of the homes looked like wood-framed homes, and then there were some incredible old brick homes. I couldn't figure out which came first. Presumably the brick, but they were so far away from each other that they couldn't have been the original homes there. Probably 75% of the houses were duplexes (which sometimes means two sets of stairs for one house!).

And then every so often was a brand new house that would have been at home in any new suburb. There were two or three boarded up homes on each block. Or if not boarded up, then just abandoned-looking. And there were houses that had their fronts on what appeared to be alleys. That was unexpected. And so were the brand new townhouses.

And today was evidently the day to be passing things out. We saw a few other teams of people passing out information about free clothing and food (but only if you go to the 1pm service at their church) and something else that was about a children's health center. There were also guys trying to drum up voter registration at the gas station we passed.

A few things I couldn't figure out:
  • Some houses that otherwise looked relatively nice also had lots of garbage floating around their front yards. Not just a cup that had drifted from somewhere else, but a lot of stray bags, wrappers, cups, and cans. I don't get that.
  • There were a fair number of people sitting in their cars listening to the radio. That was a definite mystery. First, it was a pretty hot day out. And of all the cars I saw with people in them - not one was running the airconditioning. In fact, they all had open windows, which I know because I handed them literature. And I didn't get the sense that they were waiting to pick people up. Maybe they don't have a radio in their house? No clue on that one!

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