Ny’Jai and Ny’Ela Chapman, both 18, stand for a portrait in the teen section at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Homewood on Friday, May 12, 2023, in their neighborhood of Homewood. The Youth Research Advisory Board of the SPIN (Space and People In Neighborhoods) Project, of which both sisters are a part, listed the library as a supportive place to gather as they mapped the neighborhood. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)
As the Youth Research Advisory Board of the SPIN (Space and People In Neighborhoods) Project, we probed quality of life in our neighborhood by exploring the links between violence, support and stress in spaces and later investigating who owns the land.
We are a group of students from Westinghouse High School who were born and raised in Homewood.
When we think about Homewood, we think about comfort because we are familiar with the area. It is home. There is a connection among people who live here, like distant relatives or a dysfunctional family. We connect through the trauma that we go through, but we meet that with humor and support each other. We are held together by our experience of living here and of being neglected by the city and discriminated against because of where we live.
Walking around Homewood, there are people in some areas who use drugs as well as vacant and rundown lots. In the last couple of decades, Homewood has been a place that produces a lot of abandoned houses and buildings. Stores and old businesses stand abandoned.
Ny’Ela (black shirt) and Ny’Jai Chapman (white shirt), both 18, in their neighborhood of Homewood on Friday, May 12, 2023. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)
We have seen pictures of how Homewood used to look: busy, put together and cared for, but we have not experienced that. Currently, people are abandoning houses, and no one is taking care of them or rebuilding them. Trash collects in the front yards.
We — about 11 of us students — have been part of the Youth Research Advisory Board of the SPIN Project for the last five years. We have been working with Jaime Booth, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh, to understand how Homewood youth feel in different locations around their neighborhood.
In a study that we conducted right before the COVID shutdown, we gave youth cell phones and asked them to tell us how they experience (i.e. violence, support) areas around the neighborhood where they typically spend time and how they feel in the space. Using this data, we were able to map how youth were feeling in the neighborhood.
In general, they were feeling supported and positive at family members’ houses, the library and the community center and were more stressed at school and while walking on the street. When we looked at the results, we were not surprised, but we were gratified that our experiences showed up in the data.
Vacancy and violence
In 2021, to think about how we could create a safe space for youth in Homewood, we started to look up vacant properties in the neighborhood and who owns them. We were surprised to find that most of the vacant properties were owned by the city and were bought in the last five years.
Recently, an article came out that Homewood and the neighborhood next to it (Larimer) have the highest number of city-owned vacant properties in Pittsburgh, a shocking 1,067 total in those two neighborhoods. In Homewood, 21% of these vacant properties have building code violations.
Homewood has also experienced a lot of violence lately, and we believe the two things are related.
A flyer asks for information on the recent fatal shooting of Jaylen Martin, as it hangs from a telephone pole along Kelly Street on Friday, May 12, 2023, in Homewood. (Photo by Stephanie Strasburg/PublicSource)