Beyond the Bullets: Is poverty triggering Richmond’s violence?

Richmond's new anti-poverty director lays out plans for fighting poverty

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A new open door policy in the fight against poverty may also help lead the fight against crime as well. It’s a fresh approach from the man now in charge of tackling Richmond’s poverty problems.

In an exclusive interview with 8News Investigator Kerri O’Brien, Reggie Gordon, Richmond’s new Director of the Office of Community Wealth Building, laid out his plans for addressing Richmond’s poverty problem.

Back in May, 8News aired a series called “Beyond the Bullets” that examined the gun violence here in Richmond.

We found most of gun crimes were happening in neighborhoods  that were struggling economically, and many of you told us it won’t stop until Richmond gets serious about it’s poverty problem and gives those struggling hope.

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As promised, we’re staying on this issue and pressing for plans from the new director.

“We want people to take chances and risks, because the status quo just isn’t working,” Gordon explained, just five weeks into the new job.

Gordon knows he has a big challenge ahead of him. While the Mayor Jones Administration has said since day one that tackling poverty in Richmond is a top priority. The Office of Community Wealth Building was established solely to focus on the impoverished, but the poverty rate in Richmond hasn’t budged.

BD04239A1837410C8EDFFD00B6366E90A quarter of the city’s population still lives in poverty. Nearly 40 percent are kids.

“I am a Richmonder , grew up in Richmond,” says Gordon, who believes his knowledge of the area will help him make a difference.

Gordon has been a part of the city’s anti-poverty commission and was the CEO of the Greater Richmond Red Cross. He already has some fresh ideas for starters he wants to hear your ideas.

“We are going to literally have office hours for the community on Fridays,” he explained. “Because there is somebody out there who has always said they should do is.”

He’s also working on fighting poverty with a paycheck. “We feel that we have 1000’s of people who are ready to get to that next level of a higher

35C85E72D91D4E1788EACF956AF13F64“We feel that we have 1000’s of people who are ready to get to that next level of a higher paycheck, if they only had options,” he said.

He’s looking to partner with businesses and congregations to better train Richmond’s workforce at the City’s Center for Workforce Innovation.

The concept is to provide trainees with the specific skills that companies doing business in Richmond are looking for. Companies like Stone Brewing.

“We were able to talk to them and say, ‘what is your culture there? What would be a dream employee for you there?’ And then we turned back into the people walking in the door at the center and said these are the skills they are looking for at Stone Brewery,” Gordon explained.

Confronting concentrated pockets of poverty is also part of Gordon’s strategy. Right now, public housing in Richmond has a 96.1 percent occupancy rate. Nearly 3,000 people are on a waiting list for units, and many have told 8News the units leave them discouraged.

“The apartments are just so terrible on the inside, the bugs. It’s just disgusting,” Creighton Court resident Rayquell Allen said.

Gordon says we know now the concept was wrong.

“Those people are trapped,” Gordon said. “It is almost literally like, they don’t have anywhere to go. 2016 and beyond, I hope we are more inclusive in the way we look at our neighborhoods.”

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The first step? Securing a grant to deconcentrate poverty and build mixed-income housing in Creighton Court and the Old Armstrong High School.

“That would be a game changer, particularly in the East End,” Gordon said.

Yet he admits getting middle and upper-income families to move into some of these neighborhoods will be difficult.

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“We need to think about affordable housing, mixed income neighborhoods which requires us to think differently about what’s a good neighborhood and a bad neighborhood and who do I want to live next door to me,” Gordon said. “If you’re one of the people who would say, ‘I don’t want things to change’ and then say, ‘I want those people to get their act together,’ it doesn’t make sense.

“In order for things to change and people to get uplifted, we’re going to have to make adjustments on our end.”

Gordon hopes to reshape the conversation in the community, stressing that this is not just the poor’s problem. He says we all have to be open to trying something new.

“We hope that people will feel that his is everyone’s problem and we want to solve it together,” says Gordon.

As 8News explores some of what’s triggering the violence here in Richmond, ABC’s Nightline is taking an in-depth look at gun violence across our nation. And 8News will continue to tackle this issue in our community. If you have a solution gun violence or poverty, we want to hear from you. Send your story ideas to ireport8@wric.com

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