Local nonprofits turn apartments riddled with crime into safe havens for families

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Home should be a safe place, a place where children can sleep in peace, and families can share their meals.

Yet, Memphis Police and the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office say rather than provide shelter, some Memphis apartment complexes serve as havens for crime.

FOX13 wanted to know how those families can stay safe.

You’ve seen these apartment complexes on our newscasts over and over, typically bathed in flashing blue lights while police investigate yet another crime at another local apartment.

But beyond the violence and notoriety – this is where families live.

“This was like actually living inside of a war zone,” Chailene Compton, a resident at New Horizon, said.

Some can’t afford to move, so for decades, they’ve endured.

Now, there’s hope.

A name change in Whitehaven: Kings Gate apartments is now ‘New Horizon.’

With it, a new reputation for safety, helped by ‘Red Door Mission’ – a group that brings youth programs, prayer groups – and a safer environment to Memphis apartment complexes.

“Red Door was the best thing to happen to me and my family because I came in 2017, and I didn’t know what to expect,” Elijah Gibson, a resident at New Horizon, said.

In 2011, The Shelby County District Attorney’s hit ‘then’ Kings Gate – with a public nuisance complaint blaming the violence on gangs that ran rampant there, including one called ‘Kings Gate Mafia.’

Eric Watkins leads the Red Door Urban Missions.

“Most Memphians would call it the old Kings Gate was a place that housed different type of people with different type of traffic, with different type of activities,” Watkins said.

He said since setting up camp at New Horizon, there’s been a significant decrease in violence.

He attributes the success to consistency and building strong relationships in the complex.

Watkins told me he believes the same success is possible at other apartment complexes where violence and crime are problems.

“You still have your conflicts, but they are very mild now. Not like they use to be, and that’s all attributed to all the different volunteers providing resources and giving options. When we have options, we have an opportunity to be empowered, equipped, and educated with something new and different,” Watkins said.

Watkins says he’s also set up locations at Bent Tree and Pepper Tree Apartments.

I took a closer at the past criminal culture at both apartment complexes.

Last Summer, Memphis Police investigated a man who held a woman and her four children hostage.

In November 2018, Memphis Police also investigated a triple homicide at Bent Tree.

Watkins explained how both are unique when it comes to tackling the issue of violence.

“In Bent Tree, we just deal basically with the gang culture there,” Watkins said.

Watkins says, last year, he restarted the mission at Pepper Tree Apartments.

It’s the same complex that’s been under the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office microscope.

The district attorney declared the apartment complex a public nuisance in November.

At that point, Memphis Police said they had received 1,600 calls about issues at Peppertree in the previous year and a half.

More than 100 were for shootings, including 15 people who were shot.

“Our piece is to just pass the gangsters and gunslingers to build relationships to again give them options,” Watkins said.

This past November, FOX13 brought questions to the managers of the Peppertree Apartments after they appeared in environmental court for their public nuisance case.

Red Door isn’t alone.

Another group, SafeWays, also signed on to do work at 26 apartment complexes in Memphis.

That group works closely with law enforcement, property managers, and social service providers.

According to their website, they promote improved community safety and quality of life in Memphis apartment communities.

Watkins says his authentic approach will save the troubled apartment complexes and prevent hundreds of people from being homeless.

“It’s not a hard task but a challenging task. Any time you come into a new area, people are going to test you. They are going to try you to know if you are going to stick or stay,” Watkins said.