Hamilton’s 17Strong looking out for neighbors during coronavirus struggles: Here’s how

Thanks to the city’s new Department of Neighborhoods, Hamilton resident Jeff Gambrell was able to win a grant to help one of the most vulnerable groups of people to the coronavirus: homeless people.

That’s one of the ways that Hamilton’s attention to its neighborhoods and existence of the 17Strong neighborhood group has allowed local residents to help those in need. That includes the homeless.

“Restrictions that have been placed by the governor and the state’s health director, while they protect the general population, they actually hurt the homeless more,” Gambrell said.

For example, homeless people often visit fast food restaurants, libraries and other places that now are closed to practice daily hygiene, such as washing their hands, he said.

“They don’t have that access anymore,” he said.

He applied for $887, which is being used to put together toiletry bags that should help homeless people for about a month each.

Each kit will include a reusable tote bag, a toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, bar of soap, a toilet-paper roll, disposable masks, feminine hygiene products for women, and a rain poncho.

“This particular grant was for addressing COVID-19 concerns within communities,” Gambrell said. “It was called a community resilience grant. It was organized at the last minute, and so there wasn’t a lot of time to apply.”

That’s where Hamilton’s Department of Neighborhoods helped.

“Jeff was ineligible to apply as a private citizen,” said Brandon Saurber, head of the department. “We were already communicating about working to support him with it. So when ServeOhio recommended the city be the grantee, we were eager to step in and support this wonderful effort that supports some of the most vulnerable Hamiltonians.”

The department will be responsible for the grant funds and will perform the necessary reporting to ServeOhio, Saurber said.

“I am so proud to see one of our hardest working neighborhood champions continuing to make positive change during these times,” Saurber said. “So grateful for Jeff’s leadership.”

Meanwhile, the city’s 17Strong effort, which strives to strengthen Hamilton’s 17 neighborhoods, is looking for other ways to help people during the coronavirus crisis.

Other ways to help others

During a recent 17Strong Advisory Board meeting, resident Joan Stidham suggested it might be a good idea to have a virtual meeting with leaders of each neighborhood.

“Since we’re unsure how long this is going to go on, maybe we should consider doing a (virtual) meeting like this with our neighborhood leads,” Stidham said.

The only topic, she suggested, should be: “What are you doing in your neighborhoods to check on folks” or make life more pleasant during the social distancing period.

“Some of the neighborhoods are really doing some nice things, and I think they would like to maybe get some new ideas, or talk about it,” she said.

‘Love Your Block’

The “Love Your Block” events, where volunteers gather and work to improve the appearance of several houses in an area, have been postponed, said Brooke Wells, who last year worked on the Love Your Block project in other neighborhoods as an AmeriCorps volunteer and now is an employee of the neighborhood department.

The gatherings involve things like painting of houses, minor exterior repairs and landscaping.

This year’s events are to happen in the North End and Jefferson neighborhoods.

Other Ideas?

Wells said city staff is looking for “creative ways that we can help out vulnerable communities from some of the funds that we have” from the the Cities of Service organization.

Ideas can be sent to brooke.wells@hamilton-oh.gov .

Former Hamilton Council Member Kathleen Klink, a driving force in creating 17Strong, said she was glad the neighborhoods are continuing to work together during the disease isolation.

“I hope we can all think together about next steps going forward,” Klink said. Especially between now and a 17Strong meeting scheduled for June, she said: “Between now and then, a whole lot of stuff is going to happen, and how are we going to be prepared to address it, to deal with our neighbors and our neighborhoods, so that we’re really out in front of everything, as much as we can be.”

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