Safety center divides community

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Mascud Dahir makes a point not to be in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood past 10 p.m.

Though many of his closest friends live in the area, the 21-year-old said he doesn’t want to risk becoming the next casualty in the area’s battle with crime.

“As youth, we’re supposed to be having fun right now,” he said. “But every time I come, I hear bad news.”

Dahir is hopeful that things will soon change, and that it will come from youth.

But as the community prepares for a new West Bank safety center to open next month and familiarizes itself with the new Cedar-Riverside Safety Plan, some of the neighborhood’s youth programming is at stake.

To make room for the safety center, the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota is being ousted from its home for the past 17 years, said the director Saeed Fahia.

The change has been a hard road, said Abdirizak Mahboub, the interim executive director for the Riverside Plaza Tenant Association and a student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Every step has been a challenge, he said.

“I don’t feel good about it,” Fahia said. “I think it could have been handled better.”

Fahia said the group had a lease it would renew each year, but when the renewal opportunity should have come this year, it instead received notice that it had to move out in less than three weeks.

CSCM provides youth activities and homework help during the week. Fahia said it will not be able to provide programming this year without the space, which has caused outrage among parents and community volunteers.

“A lot of Somali youth in the community need this programming,” he said. “We could go to another neighborhood in the city, but we have a special investment in this area.”

An effort to be ‘welcoming’

The incoming safety center, part of the Cedar-Riverside Safety Plan, is an agreement between Riverside Plaza owners Sherman Associates and the city of Minneapolis. The plan outlines a $122 million rehabilitation of the Riverside Plaza to improve the quality of life for its 6,000 residents.

When the community was asked about what they wanted out of the rehabilitation, safety topped the list, said Russom Solomon, chairman of the West Bank Community Coalition’s Safety Committee.

“We want the neighborhood to be welcoming,” he said. “There is an issue of perception — people don’t feel safe here.”

Solomon said the center represents a collaboration of many community groups for the common good.

Sherman Associates is donating the space for the new safety center for 10 years as well as an additional $7,500 in funding for programming per year. The Riverside Plaza Tenant Association will also contribute to staff the center.

But Mahboub said nobody is being displaced by the safety center plans.

He said the tenant association has tried to reach out to CSCM — the tenant association has access to about 6,000 square feet of space in the towers — but the CSCM decided to pursue a different course of action.

“We’re willing to help,” Mahboub said. “We need to collaborate to have a sit-down so they can tell us what they want to do.”

But Fahia is not enthusiastic about that prospect. Though he’s heard rumors about an offer of space from the building’s tenant association, he said hasn’t seen anything in writing yet.

“Because we are a unique organization, we would like a lease or a space,” Fahia said. “Not just use a community room where we could be kicked out at any time.”

According to Solomon, the political controversy surrounding the space for the new safety center has taken the focus away from its purpose.

“This is a dominant immigrant population that has yet to be educated about crime,” Solomon said. “People here don’t feel comfortable with the police — they feel the police are not on their side.”

“We are trying to change that,” he added.

Solomon said the center will aim to bridge the gap between the community, police and the city.

Tim Ollom, a security worker in the area, said he is experiencing that challenge first-hand.

“There have been a couple of nights I’ve gone home shaken up,” he said. “But it’s been an experience. We’re learning to work together.”

Though he said he has often felt like the “token white guy” in the area, Ollom is feeling increasingly accepted and relied upon by residents, who even ask him to translate their mail and bring him food during shifts.

Fahia said despite recent conflict, the entire community shares a common purpose. Crime prevention was a major theme of CSCM youth programming.

“I agree with the safety center,” he said. “It is extremely necessary, but so are we.”

Solomon said the space is meant to serve the entire community, and it will not exclude or displace anybody.

“The youth have to be part of the safety center,” he said. “They are part of the safety issue, and have to be part of the solution.”

Dahir said the center is more important to youth than to anybody else.

“The youth have been a lot of the problem,” he said. “We need to use these resources so we can stay up all night again.”