Deep roots drive stakeholders from New Haven to Newhallville to advance neighborhood equality

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At the corner of Shelton Avenue and Hazel Street in Newhallville is a green space, the Learning Corridor – a center for educating young children and connecting families to a healthy lifestyle. The Farmington Canal Heritage Trail runs through the garden, where kids can stop and browse books in a box and adults can take a ride on a bicycle.

Once known in the neighborhood as the ‘mud hole’, a crime scene for ‘drug dealing and all kinds of stuff’, the Learning Corridor is now a place where neighborhood residents come together to take care for their health and well-being, said Doreen Abubakar, founder and volunteer director of the Community Placemaking and Engagement Network, or CPEN.


“We did a six-month internal diabetes training course,” said Abubakar. “My sister who had diabetes lowered her blood sugar to prediabetic levels after training.” Participants learned about the importance of exercise in managing their diabetes, and residents joined the national Girl Trek walking club movement. Last year, Abubakar and his team planted native perennials and shrubs and this year received a Nursery Grant from the Audubon Society.

But those who live and work to improve Newhallville – a neighborhood long associated with poverty, violence and trauma – know more work needs to be done.

Newhallville is one of thousands of neighborhoods in the United States where childhood opportunities are rated “Very Low” – a designation that affects their health, well-being, and even their lifespan – new data at the Brandeis University district show.

“All of our data shows that two children born within a few kilometers of each other [in New Haven, Bridgeport and Hartford metros] experience very different neighborhood conditions in childhood and have a life expectancy gap of six years or more simply depending on where they were born, ”said Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, director of the Institute for child, youth and family policy at the Heller school in Brandeis. . In fact, Newhallville ranks “Very Low” for overall opportunities for children on 29 indicators, including access to green spaces, ability to walk, and access to healthy food.

Residents are all too aware of the disparities cited in the study. “You just walk up about four blocks and there are millionaires,” said Rhonda Nelson Sheffield, a 56-year-old resident and worker who has lived in the neighborhood her entire life.

Newhallville has been a deprived area since the 1960s and has become “even more economically disadvantaged over time, as evidenced by the fact that it has become impoverished relative to other areas – even though its absolute poverty rates or its income levels have not changed or even improved at times, ”said Mark Abraham, executive director of DataHaven.

According to a 2019 DataHaven report, the average Newhallville household earned $ 33,113 per year, compared to $ 73,781 statewide. Almost 4,054 residents lived in households with incomes below double the federal poverty line. In Newhallville and nearby Dixwell combined, up to 83% of children under the age of 18 were considered low income, according to 2017 data.

Within a mile and a half, Newhallville is located on a subway that offers very different opportunities for children living within a few blocks of each other. Brandeis researchers call this difference the Child Opportunity Gap.

In the New Haven metro area, the Child Opportunity Gap is 90 points – the poorest neighborhood got a score of 6, while the highest-rated neighborhood got 96.

Barriers to healthy eating

Across the country, cost and distance are barriers to healthy eating. In Newhallville, 30% of households do not own a vehicle, compared to 9% of households statewide, according to DataHaven.

“We live in a food desert,” said Devin Avshalom-Smith, whose grandparents migrated to Newhallville from North Carolina almost 65 years ago to find work. Avshalom-Smith is working with Gather New Haven and the New England Brewing Co. to secure funding for Big Starr Street Garden and Little Starr Street Garden and plans to distribute fresh produce to residents of Newhallville. He is also circulating petitions to qualify for a Democratic primary for alder in the 20th arrondissement.

“There is nothing here except the corner store,” Sheffield said.

Sheffield’s friend Jeanette Sykes, founder of the nonprofit Perfect Blend, which helps students prepare for college, also grew up in Newhallville. “We should be buying fresh veg and not having to go all the way to Hamden or downtown New Haven Stop & Shop,” Sykes said. “It’s expensive too. Local stores mainly sell canned foods that contain more sodium. “

Despite the challenges, Tammy Chapman, founder of Newhallville Community Matters, is proud to reside in a neighborhood that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988. The neighborhood was once home to the Winchester Repeating Arms Co.

“There are deep roots here,” Chapman said. “There are generational families. And so, there is no shame. You are going through a difficult time, you can call the neighbor down the street who may have a connection with the pantry.

At the height of the pandemic, neighbors quickly identified people they believed might need it. “At one point we were all panicking because there was very little flour, very little milk and those kinds of items,” Chapman said. “But if people had more – and churches were wide open to hand out bags of food – these places made it a little easier. I found people who worked really well together. It is the beauty of the community that I represent.

Residents have also started planting vegetables on the porches in pots or in the side and back gardens. Chapman grows tomatoes, green beans and lettuce and frequently bags extra produce for neighbors.

Neighborhood investments

In recent years, several community groups have made investments to help improve the quality of life in Newhallville.

The Beulah Heights Social Integration Program provides grants of up to $ 15,000 for rent and utility assistance to residents of the Newhallville, Dixwell and Fair Haven neighborhoods. Only 30% of Newhallville residents own a home, according to Brandeis data. “Investors buy houses here and they set prices for us,” said Sheffield, who rents an apartment. Her parents own their house across from her.

ConnCAT responds to the lack of access to capital with a plan to pay $ 600,000 to families in Newhallville and Dixwell for basic needs and to start black-owned businesses.

The Hispanic Health Council office on Sherman Avenue provides support for mental health and substance abuse disorders. Now, social workers are grappling with rising levels of anxiety resulting from pandemic isolation. “A lot of our families have problems with depression and anxiety,” said Carlos Rivera, director of behavioral health services. “In addition, they are afraid to go out [because they are unvaccinated due to fear of vaccination]. They lock themselves up. “

Now Newhallville is attracting an influx of people. The neighborhood “is getting very mixed up,” Chapman said. “Especially last year, people from New York and New Jersey were coming to smaller areas. We see students from Albertus Magnus, Quinnipiac, Southern and Yale. People come because they feel and see something that is, I would say, unique. “

C-HIT intern Ishan Rangarajan, a math and economics student at Princeton University, compiled data for this story. This story was reported in partnership with the Connecticut Health I-Team (c-hit.org), a nonprofit news organization dedicated to health reporting.


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