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CRUMBLING APARTMENT ON THE FAR EAST SIDE SITS VACANT: 'I know a lot of people don't care about Oaktree'

Precious Lash Long grew up in Oaktree Apartments on the far east side. She lived in an apartment D with her mother and five brothers from 1994 to 2003 and remembered the massive complex as a decent place for children to live. There was a park, a tennis court, fun things for children her age to do.

Long's family moved out when she was in her early teens to get a bigger apartment for the seven of them, but they didn't go far. They stayed on the far east side, and Long watched on from nearby as the place she grew up in and loved deteriorated. The grass was knee high. The streets and sidewalks were littered with bottles. More and more buildings went vacant.

"There was no love for the apartments," Long, 31, said. "... You'd see busted windows. You'd see homeless sleeping in the buildings."

Even before Long's family moved, there were signs that things were going downhill at Oaktree. She remembered some people moving out because of an asbestos problem.

Today, Oaktree Apartments — sitting on 19 acres near the intersection of East 42nd Street and Post Road — is empty, aside from whatever animals have turned the abandoned buildings into their homes, and any homeless who take shelter there.

It's been that way since 2014, when the Marion County Health Department condemned the property and the Marion County Superior Court ordered the remaining 46 tenants to move out after the buildings became unlivable from years of neglect. The city prosecutor filed a public nuisance case against Oak-

tree Apartments in 2013 because of the hundreds of police runs, incident reports and code violations. A tornado in 2008 destroyed nearly 50 units and damaged another 200, and many of the buildings have been destroyed by fires.

Carmella Wright was living at Oaktree Apartments in 2014 when everyone had to move out. She got a voucher from the city to get another apartment nearby. Wright only lived at Oaktree Apartments for a year but said the complex was more a like a hangout than a place to live. She saw people get shot — weekends were especially bad — and had a dog that would have hopefully protected her if she needed it.

"I know a lot of people don't care about Oaktree," Wright, 33, said. "The apartment I lived in is burnt up, so nobody cares about my home."

Wright and Long both put a lot of the blame on the complex's owner, Indy Diamond LLC, a London-based company that bought Oaktree Apartments in 2012. The city also blames Indy Diamond LLC, which has been in contempt of court since July 2018, when the county superior court ordered it to obtain wrecking permits and demolish the buildings by August 30, 2018. The company never submitted an application for demolition permits. The Recorder could not find contact information for Indy Diamond LLC.

Michael Howe, CEO of Community Alliance of the Far Eastside (CAFE), said the expansive complex with its crumbling buildings is like a soar on the far east side. It's difficult to see much of the complex from the road because of trees and overgrown brush, but what can be seen from the outside makes it clear nothing should be living there.

"It declines the sense of pride in a neighborhood and makes the residents feel like they're not worthy of something nice or new," Howe said.

After years of this being the case, things could be changing. The city of Indianapolis filed suit in Marion County Superior Court in May to acquire Oaktree Apartments through eminent domain. If successful, the city would demolish the buildings. Indy Diamond LLC originally had until June 24 to respond to the lawsuit, but it requested and was granted an extension to June 28. The company hasn't filed any objections to the complaint.

Emily Mack, director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, said that aside from getting a feel for the real estate market in the area, part of the process of getting something new on the land would include community feedback.

"It's so important for us to understand those community desires and those community needs and what stakeholders would like to see at that site," Mack said, noting that using eminent domain for something this big is "very atypical."

As the leader of a community organization, Howe would likely be involved in gathering that feedback. He said some of the far east side's needs include senior housing, resources for youth, an affordable and healthy grocery store, retail space and small businesses.

Remembering what her childhood home used to be, Long said she would like to see affordable apartments go there if the city does acquire the land. She wants something "we all can manage and live from." But Long also knows what doesn't want.

"Whenever they tear it down," she said, "I just hope they don't turn it into another liquor store."

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick

IPS taps Aleesia Johnson as next superintendent

Indianapolis Public Schools' next superintendent will be Aleesia Johnson, who has been the district's interim superintendent since December 2018. The school board made the announcement June 21. IPS, the state's largest school district, began its search for a new superintendent after

former leader Lewis Ferebee left for the same position with D.C. Public Schools.

"I am thrilled, honored, humbled to be the next superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools," Johnson said. "I've grown to have such deep love for this district over the last four years."

Johnson began working for the district in 2015 as the innovation officer.

The board made its decision after what President Michael O'Connor called an "open process." The board had three public meetings starting in February, posted the job description online and let the public submit questions that were part of an open interview for the three finalists June 18.

"Ms. Johnson was selected because the board believed her experience, her integrity and her leadership made her the best candidate to lead this district," O'Connor said, adding that Johnson's vision for the district best aligned with the board's.

Johnson is the 33rd superintendent of IPS and the first African American female superintendent in the district's 166-year history. The other finalists were Devon Horton, chief of schools for Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville, Kentucky, and Larry Young Jr., assistant superintendent of Elementary Education for Metropolitan School District of Pike Township.

Johnson said her early priorities as superintendent will include the six focus areas — student-centered teaching and learning, school-centered central services, racial equity, sustainable finances, high-performing staff and engagement — she presented to the board and public at the June 18 interview.

Selecting Johnson to lead the district means there likely won't be much disruption to the charter and Innovation Network School advancements started under Ferebee. Johnson said to not expect "dramatic" changes in the district's direction under her leadership.

"The hope is that we continue in our innovation work to be responsive to what we're seeing happening in the district," she said. "If there are schools [and] communities that say we want to make this transition, then we can support them in doing that. If there are schools that haven't been performing well and we think a transition to innovation is the right strategy, then we'll do that."

About 25 percent of IPS students attend innovation schools, which are managed by outside organizations such as charter networks.

As a first-time superintendent, Johnson doesn't yet have her superintendent license. She said she's taken and passed the district leadership assessment that's needed to be licensed, and she'll begin coursework "during my tenure."

Johnson still has to go through a formal review and approval process with the school board. That will include a public hearing, most likely in mid-July, and O'Connor said he expects the board to take a final vote at its regularly scheduled board meeting July 25.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING: It happens here, too

When she was 17 years old, Hope*, an Indiana native who is currently a resident at Hope Center Indy, gave her daughter up for adoption, and the resulting grief led her to run away from home. She eventually felt like her luck turned around when she met her boyfriend, a strip club owner.

Hope fell so in love with him that she initially didn't mind when he had her travel around to several states, including Indianapolis, selling herself to other men as a prostitute. Hope did not realize she was a victim of human trafficking.

As time went on, the so called boyfriend became more abusive and controlling, not even letting Hope visit her dying mother. He could even become violent when upset.

"When you get in trouble, you will be publicly humiliated," Hope, remembered about her old life. "I've been grabbed by a dog choke

chain and dragged out of a club and stomped in front of the entire parking lot, and nobody even stopped or tried to help me because they enjoy watching. ... The other women see that, and they know to do what they are supposed to."

Human trafficking is illegally transporting people to be used as prostitutes or forced labor. Kellie Leeper, director of communications and development of Ascent 121, said sex trafficking is the country's second most prevalent organized crime next to drug trafficking. Human trafficking has a presence in every state, including Indiana, so awareness is vital to fighting the issue. Local hotspots include 38th Street and Post Road, and 10th Street and Parker Avenue, both on the east side.

According to Human Trafficking Hotline, Indiana had 152 calls to the hotline and 59 documented cases in 2018. Considering these are only documented cases, the actual number is likely higher. Of the 59 recorded cases in 2018, 46 incidents involved sex trafficking, four were labor trafficking, four were a combination and five were unspecified.

Born and raised in Botswana, Tebogo "Tebby" Kaisara experienced labor trafficking after her cousin told her about an opportunity in America to attend college and work at a daycare. Kaisara happily accepted. Her cousin arranged the paperwork and travel plans, but instead of sending Kaisara to a family in St. Louis, her cousin intentionally acted as a trafficker sending Kaisara to a woman in Bloomington. Kaisara later found out that her cousin was tired of supporting her, so she trafficked Kaisara to get rid of her.

The trafficking client stole Kaisara's papers and threatened to call immigration unless Kaisara became her nanny. The conditions resembled slavery more than nannying, with unpaid work, days without food, verbal assaults and refusal to let Kaisara see a doctor. She went from 140 pounds to 80 pounds in 18 months.

The woman kicked Kaisara out of her home when Kaisara saw a doctor without permission. Eventually someone — Kaisara isn't sure who — tipped off the FBI, which provided Kaisara with an immigration lawyer and investigated the woman. The FBI wasn't able to press charges, but Kaisara was able to stay in America.

"I felt like I was a very lucky survivor," said Kaisara, who's now 36 and lives in Bloomington.

Hope's and Kaisara's stories are different, but they have commonalities with many human trafficking cases. Desiree Watts, Hope Center Indy's program director, said trafficking survivors often don't realize they are being trafficked. Some traffickers, such as Kaisara's, initially lie about why they're going to a new place. Other survivors, such as Hope, see their actions as doing a favor for a boyfriend.

"He was a pimp, and in the beginning he was just a boyfriend," Hope said. "That's how I looked at it. That's how they reel you in."

Watts said traffickers — many of whom hold psychology degrees and know how to manipulate people — often psychologically control victims. In Hope's case, her pimp showered his top earner with praise and attention, creating a competitive atmosphere among the prostitutes. Kaisara's trafficker held something important — her immigration status — hostage.

That control even extends to traffickers sending women to prisons and courtrooms to prevent snitching.

"I've seen it with my own eyes," Watts said. "I went to a hearing with a client. ... Her trafficker sent a woman into the courtroom, and she sat and just watched my client the whole time. That was a way to intimidate her."

Teresa Bradley, a social worker and counselor who works with human trafficking survivors, said, contrary to popular belief, pimps and traffickers are often middle class and well connected. That, combined with their ability to brainwash and intimidate, makes them difficult to prosecute. Kaisara once met another victim of the client she worked for who not only avoided going to the police but also told the woman of Kaisara's plans to do so.

Leeper said one of the largest problems regarding human trafficking is a lack of awareness. She said despite a mentality of "it doesn't happen here," trafficking occurs in urban, rural and suburban areas across all socioeconomic levels, and the less attention the issue receives the less those impacted know how to respond to trafficking.

"It's dumbfounding to me," Hope said. "These are human lives out there. I can think of women I've worked with who would give their left or right arm to be at [Hope Center Indy], but they don't know it exists because there's not enough publicity."

The situation is not hopeless for survivors. Hope sought treatment at Hope Center Indy where she received counseling, addiction resources, vocational training and religious teaching. On June 21 she celebrated a year of clean living without drugs, men and alcohol, saying the best part is her renewed relationship with her daughter.

Kaisara is attending Indiana University. After graduation she plans to move to Indianapolis and open a living facility and school for human trafficking survivors.

"Every survivor goes through difficulties every day," Kaisara said. "It takes a lot to be normal like everybody else, so I'm glad that I am able to cope with it, and my goal is to go out there and help others to cope the same way I am."

Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @Benjamin-Lashar.

* Hope is a pseudonym Hope Center Indy uses to protect the identities and safety of trafficking survivors.

Indianapolis TenPoint Coalition celebration sparks confusion and anger

Indianapolis TenPoint Coalition gathered June 17 with city officials from Indianapolis and Lawrence to celebrate a milestone on the far east side: one year without a homicide in the area from 38th to 42nd streets, between Post and Mitthoeffer roads.

That's one of five areas the coalition patrols, and it's the fourth patrol area to go at least one year without a homicide since 2016. This is a true claim, but a couple of factors collided in the days following the event that left

community activists upset with TenPoint.

First, a poster board behind speakers at the event read "Indianapolis Far Eastside" with "No Homicides In One Year" next to it. That isn't true. Using the city's parameters for the far east side, there have been at least 14 homicides in the last year.

This helped prompt a "lie and die" protest outside the county building downtown on June 21. Protestors laid on the ground while Shelley Covington, who organized the protest, read aloud the names of homicide victims on the far east side over the last year. Covington, 56, said she got complaints after TenPoint's event and wants an apology from the organization.

But Rev. Charles Harrison, one of TenPoint's founders, said he and other city leaders simply stated a fact.

"What we said on Monday was the truth," he said. "There was no homicides in our catch area that TenPoint patrols."

Harrison is right. There was no mention on June 17 about there not being any homicides on the far east side in the last year. When Harrison spoke, he consistently referred to the "neighborhood" and "area," but that was while standing in front of the misleading poster board. Harrison said the poster board was actually printed by the state attorney general's office, which sent a representative to the event. (A spokesperson for the attorney general's office confirmed this.)

The second thing that angered some is something they've been contending for a while now: that TenPoint's micro-successes in specific neighborhoods don't do justice to the larger issue of violence in the city.

"When they say zero homicides in a year, then people say, 'Oh, well the east side is fine. They don't need any help. They don't need any resources.' But that is so far from the truth," Covington said, although it should be noted again that TenPoint did not say there were no homicides on the far east side.

The underlying issue is real, though. Social media posts criticizing TenPoint made it seem the organization was celebrating a year without homicides in a large area of the city that has clearly had problems with violence that extend well beyond just the last 12 months. Even some media outlets didn't make it clear TenPoint was referring to its patrol area within the far east side.

Anthony Hampton, 49, was also at the protest and said he's tired of TenPoint taking credit for a reduction in violence in Butler Tarkington, where he lives. There were five homicides in the area in 2015, and TenPoint began patrolling after that. There weren't any homicides in the year following, but Hampton said the area was relatively quiet before and that it was actually he and others in the neighborhood who reduced violence by doing community outreach. "For them to take credit is like a spit in the face to the police department, all the people involved," he said.

Harrison mentioned Butler-Tarkington at the celebration, and it was on the poster board. But Harrison said those who are upset with what TenPoint does or the way it commemorates successes need to "take their feelings off their shoulders."

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.