• Doing double the good fighting blight


    Drive around Memphis and you'll see abandoned buildings, overgrown lots, as blight is a big problem for the city and clearing all the brush is hard work.

    But the Bluff City has an innovative new plan. It's getting more bang for its buck with an ex-offender re-entry program and blight-fighting campaign all wrapped up into one. City leaders say it has helped them increase the number of blighted properties they're cleaning up by five times.

    MORE: Fighting the blight in Memphis

    One abandoned lot in a Memphis neighborhood is an eyesore. The weeds are 12-feet tall in spots and this is the second time the crew has hit this lot. It will take six hours for nine men to get the job done.

    "It's not hard work when you think about the stuff we done in the streets," said William Hence of Lifeline to Success. "It's actually a whole lot easier. You know, it might be hard work but we can sleep at night."

    Lifeline, the Frayser-based organization, offers job and life skills training to ex-offenders. Some of these men couldn't find a job before they found Lifeline to Success.     

    Mario Shaw was homeless. He served time for a burglary charge and found this group three years ago.

    "We're like in two different worlds. You have no idea," Shaw said. "But what is tough about it is when you want to actually change and you get tired of your kids or your grand kids eaten a half of bean. You want them to eat a whole bean you've got to start changing what's in yourself. Lifeline to Success, that's what it's done for me."

    There are about 60 men and women in the program. They attend classes in the mornings and break up into blight cleaning crews, working on the city's 25-square blight clean-up campaign.

    "People are people, and don't look at the fact that people have made bad decisions. See what they're doing now," said Lifeline to Success executive director. "Because change is possible and if you would give them the opportunity to prove that to you. I promise you we'd be a greater city."

    Mayor A C Wharton wants to expand programs like Lifeline to Success.

    "What we're doing is trying to take a bad situation and bring some good out of it," Mr. Wharton said. "Good in addition to cleaning up. Not only are we rehabilitating lots we're now rehabilitating people which I think is just as important if not more."

    The vendor crews like this one fighting blight in the neighborhood have helped the city boost the number of abandoned properties they're cleaning up.

    "A lot of the neighborhoods we've been in, you know, they were our playgrounds for crime and now they we've got more mature," Shaw said. "See the bigger picture, a man's responsibility, being a man you know that's what it means responsibility. We're giving something back to the neighborhoods. It's a elating feeling, that's what U can tell you. It's a real good feeling."

    These men say it's about more than cleaning up a community. It's a chance at a fresh start.
    "To do anything you got to tear it down and rebuild it so when you compare our life to this grass we cut," Hence said. "It's cutting it down and starting over like I said. Somebody take care of it. It'll never get overgrown again just like our life. Once you tear down and rebuild us it's hard to get me to commit a crime again. It goes hand and hand."

    Lifeline to Success has already expanded this year. They've been able to get more people into the program and buy more equipment to get the job done. It's a non-profit group. The city contracts them for the work and the organization pays its staff.

    City inspectors check on things to make sure the jobs are finished.

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