Special to South Florida Times
Dewandis Graves has a 14-year-old grandson at home whom he describes as “out of control.” Gangs, drugs and crime, Graves says, “are like candy to that boy and I’m afraid that those things will cause an early demise.”

Graves, a resident of Miami’s Annie Coleman Garden Apartments housing complex, says he is at his wit’s end and needs help “before his momma and I have to bury him.”

Shawana Graham has lived in Annie Coleman for “way too long,” she says, and is ready to move. Her concern, she says, is safety.

“There’s always shooting, fights, stealing; and if you call the police, they don’t come or arrive late and, worst of all, you could lose your life around here for snitching,” Graham said. “This place is dangerous for me and my kids. I feel stuck here, defeated. And it doesn’t help that I can’t find work.”

Graves and Graham sought assistance from volunteers from the Walking One Stop Center who visited the complex, 2140 NW 53rd St., on Monday to listen to the concerns of residents.

The door-to-door initiative started as a result of the gang intervention and gang prevention program, according to Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara J. Jordan. About 15 volunteers went on the  walk.

The Walking One Stop Social and Economic Services Center is a prevention and intervention strategy that mobilizes a team of social, economic, faith- and community- based organizations working in conjunction with criminal justice professionals to deliver services and referrals door-to-door to residents in neighborhoods hard hit by juvenile- or gang- related violence.

The center’s origins go back to Sept. 29-30, 2008, when the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office hosted the South Florida Anti-Gang Summit.

The first Walking One Stop Center sent out volunteers on Oct. 26, 2009, to an area in the Miami-Dade police department’s Northside District where shootings had taken place.

The center collaborates with the Service Provider Village in an effort to enhance its offerings and have social and economic service providers at the walk’s location. Volunteer agencies, including the Belafonte TACOLCY Center and South Florida Workforce mobile training unit, were on site to offer assistance with information on housing and job referrals.

Volunteers have also visited Lincoln Fields, 2020 NW 63rd St.; Liberty Square, 1801 NW 54th St.; and another Annie Coleman complex at 2400 NW 63rd St. 

High crime areas, Jordan said, are targeted for the walks.

Four shootings have taken place at Annie Coleman Garden Apartments in the last 10 weeks, according to community activist Renita Holmes. “The depression level here is very high and this area is known for crime,” Holmes said. “Even the areas around here are traumatized. The residents need people who are loving and patient to talk to them.”

The main objective of the visits is to encourage residents to make a call while walkers are at their apartments, said Wayne Rawlins, lead consultant for the Miami-Dade Anti-Gang Strategy.

“We want to prompt action on the spot. If the provider for the services is on the site, we walk the residents over right then.”

Residents can receive referrals through the Miami 2-1-1 switchboard. Referrals may be made to the juvenile services agency if there is a child age 17 or under needing intervention, Rawlins said. Residents are also directed to call 3-1-1 for county services.

“It helps the community to recognize that there are services provided and that intervention can take place,” Jordan said. “By going door-to-door, we have found that there are a lot of social needs.”

The program allows families to get help right away, Jordan said.

Lena Winfrey, 46, also a resident of Annie Coleman, said that she was glad that someone came to her door.

“I have been searching for affordable daycare and assistance with finding a job. Now I feel hopeful that I can do more for my family,” Winfrey said.

Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net.