Neighbours helping neighbours
A soon-to-be-released web application is aiming to make St. James a little bit safer.
Jeri Stern conceived of the idea for his Respond Now community development app 10 years ago while experiencing homelessness.
“I became a resident of Siloam Mission,” Stern said. “I spent my time walking back and forth, living at what is now called the Salvation Army Centre of Hope and using resources along Henry Street.”
“So, as a patron at soup kitchens myself, I had a desire to help people I recognized had a lot less privilege than I enjoyed. This came out of a core desire to do outreach work downtown.”
Respond Now, which has been in its prototype phase since January, will be an online community that allows neighbours to help each other more efficiently and effectively though different technologies, like GPS mapping.
Essentially, residents will be able to ask for help for themselves or on someone else’s behalf. Already established outreach and patrol leaders and volunteers will get a map of different listings and notifications to alert them of where the needs are in real time.
Stern calls it “Pokemon Go for community development.”
“These volunteers will be able to get involved in community development based on exactly where the needs are, whether that’s crime prevention or outreach, but also things like yard care,” he said. “They’re able to respond quickly and plan their patrol routes based on where the needs have been historically, like hot spots for petty theft or finding needles in a park.”
While social media has been a great resource for bringing community members and government leaders together, Stern believes the Respond Now will empower neighbours to act proactively based on trends the app might pick up.
“It can create response times that 211 might not necessarily be able to achieve at this point,” Stern said. “We’re bringing the community together to get things done and get to know their neighbours a little bit better.”
Since different communities have different needs, Stern will be launching Respond NOW in St. James before he expands it to cover the rest of Winnipeg. Aside from residents being able submit their own requests for help, the app will also have a directory of different community organizations, important contacts — such as 911 and 211 — as well as links to where people can access clothing, toiletries, shelter and food.
Respond Now is a partnership between Stern and his neighbour, Judy Undiks. In 2021, Undiks helped organize a virtual gathering where St. James residents could discuss strategies focusing on crime prevention.
Stern and Undiks are also working with a small group of volunteers and business leaders.
“I was seeing plenty of Facebook posts about break-ins, car thefts and damage to people’s property within the St. James community,” Undiks said. “I had a storage locker broken into three times, and my car windows were smashed two times within a very small time-frame. St. James takes pride in (its) community, and so I thought there might be interest to get some people together and see if we could talk about ideas. There had to be something we could do together as neighbours.”
Undiks said it was interesting to see how quickly people came together.
“The need is there, the want is there,” Undiks said. “These people really want to make the community more trustworthy.”
Stern and Undiks hope Respond Now will be ready for use within the next several months.
Kelsey James is a reporter/photographer for the Free Press Community Review. She graduated from Red River College’s creative communications program in 2018 as a journalism major and holds a bachelor’s degree in rhetoric, writing and communications from the University of Winnipeg. A lifelong Winnipegger who grew up in southwest Winnipeg, Kelsey is thrilled to be covering the neighbourhoods she still calls “home.”