RICHMOND, Va. -- Yvette Ross took some of her first steps in Richmond's Creighton Court back in the early 1960s, and now, nearly 60 years later, she is once again living in the East End public housing community, though that was never the plan.
Ross's mother worked at a laundry and dropped out of school after 6th grade.
Her father worked for himself picking up junk from other businesses.
After graduating from Armstrong High School, Ross became a nursing assistant, got married, and moved into a house.
She seemed to be fulfilling the mission of the public housing authority running Creighton Court: to improve the lives of the families they serve.
But then the crack cocaine epidemic hit in the 1980s, and her life fell apart.
"I became homeless at one point due to a drug addiction that I did have," Ross said.
Drug and alcohol addictions derailed her life for decades before she turned things around.
"Now I'm nine years clean. I have really struggled to get to where I am," Ross said.
Now, she is back in Creighton, which is a place Ross said recently took a turn for the worse.
"We are experiencing the violence here, it's real frightful," Ross said.
Numbers from the Richmond Police Department show violent crimes in the Creighton neighborhood have more than tripled in the last year.
The number of people shot in the neighborhood jumped from three in 2016, to 13 in 2017.
"At any time, they probably will start shooting and you don't know where the bullets are going," Ross said.
Some have called for Creighton and Richmond's other courts to be torn down and replaced with mixed-use developments, and housing vouchers that residents can use to live elsewhere.
And, that's exactly what is happening, on a small scale, at Creighton Court.
"We are finally saying this is to the best degree possible this is what we know or think can work, and we're going to take a step out and do it," Scott Andrews-Weckerly, who works for the Richmond City Health District and as a family transition coach at Creighton Court said.
The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority is helping 250 residents, including Ross, to move new homes outside of the complex.
Andrews-Weckerly is a key part of that transition.
"They're able to live in a culture of diversity of income levels and experiences in the housing that is being built and really profit from that in ways that help them thrive," Andrews-Weckerly said.
Some of the residents will move into new mixed-income houses and apartments being built across from Creighton Court on the site of the old Armstrong High School.
Others will move to homes in different parts of the metro region, with the ultimate goal being to relocate every Creighton resident within a decade.
"It's worth a try you know?" Shaquitta White, who has lived in Creighton for about a year, said.
Like Ross, White grew up in a Richmond housing project, left and then came back.
"I was raised by my grandmother. We lived in Hillside Court in the Southside area up until I was like 10 years old," White said.
As she raises five kids in Creighton and studies to become a Certified Nursing Assistant, White said she can only afford public housing right now.
"We wake up all different times of the night hearing gunshots. People just, you know, shooting at each other, firing in the air. It just scares me. I'm scared for my kids," White said.
At first, White seemed slightly skeptical of the new plans for the residents in Creighton.
"You can tear the projects down, you can take the people out of the ghetto, but you cannot take the ghetto out the people simple as that," White said.
But, after further thought she recognized the change could benefit her family, especially her 8-year-old son.
"I feel like if I stay here any longer than he is going to get wrapped up in all this bad that is going on, and I don't want him to be like that, I don't want him to become another statistic," White said.
White isn't slated for the initial move yet, but Andrews-Weckerly told us they will talk to her about the possibility.
They hope to have the 250 residents relocated by the end of next year, and the rest of Creighton Court moved in another 7-10 years.
Total development costs for the Armstrong site are $56,836,982, according to RRHA.
The financing comes from a mix of private, state, federal, and city funds.
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