By definition the word ‘catalyst’ means to cause a change, and The Town of Bennington is hoping that’s exactly what its new program will do. Project Catalyst, established earlier this year, focuses on areas within the town of Bennington that have a history of crime, substance abuse and blight. Originally developed in response to the article that was published by the New York Times that highlighted the opiate problem in rural America, Project Catalyst, which was modeled after other regional outreach programs, combines community and municipal resources to positively impact neighborhoods and areas within the town.

Through a multi-pronged approach, the municipality and its partners, who include Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, United Counseling Services, the Vermont Department of Health, the Agency of Human Services for the State of Vermont, the local school system and other community organizations, have begun to combine efforts and resources in order to make measurable improvements within identified neighborhoods.

Focused on prevention, treatment and enforcement, Project Catalyst uses data collection as a way to identify at-risk areas within the community and then determines the appropriate response as a way to decrease crime, increase community participation, reduce blight and provide much needed services to individuals battling addiction. For example, a particular street is identified as a focus area based on certain data, and through combined coordination, participating organizations create a plan for implementing a variety of programs. These could include infrastructure and safety improvements, community outreach programs, support services for landlords and renters, and an increased police presence.  “There is no silver bullet for combating decades worth of social norming, but we’re hoping this approach will become the catalyst for change in these areas,” said Town Manager Stuart Hurd.

In addition to specific neighborhood identification, Project Catalyst has a subcomponent aimed at empowering residents and improving collaboration with local police. Through the “EYES” Progam, which stands for Every Yard on Every Street, community members can now contact the police through an anonymous tip line (802-445-EYES) or by email to report suspicious activity.  “This is not meant to replace 911 for emergency situations, but hopefully encourages individuals to regularly and freely communicate with the Bennington Police Department,” said Bennington Chief of Police Paul Doucette. Chief Doucette went on to say that a major component of combating crime is the ability to rely on concerned citizens to share information whenever it is safe to do so.

Project Catalyst launched in January of 2015, and is currently working with partnering organizations to develop programs for its initial identified neighborhood. Our First steps have included a landlord meeting, resident survey, infrastructure upgrades and a planned neighborhood block party.

 

Objective 1: Reduce crime within identified areas associated with drug use and abuse

Objective 2: Implement prevention strategies while increasing opportunities for individuals to receive necessary treatment

Objective 3: Decrease blight (Neighborhood Improvement) within identified areas

Objective 4: Engage local residents, youth, property owners and businesses to play a positive role in the revitalization of identified neighborhoods.