The lures of drug use and other illegal activities in poverty-stricken, urban housing projects often prove too strong for many youngsters to resist. These damaging influences can rob children and youth of their potential for intellectual growth, social adjustment, civic engagement, and future economic stability. There are many conflicting opinions on how the urban public housing drug trade and epidemic should be addressed. The predominant approach has been purely punitive: using increased policing and rigorous jail sentences to stamp out the illegal activity. This approach has had little success over the years and the "War on Drugs" has had many unfortunate casualties. Lansing Housing Commission has opted for an alternative solution that simply engages urban youth in productive, safe educational and recreational activities. This simple approach has empowered Lansing's housing project community, diminished the problem of drug related crimes, and invested in youth academic enrichment.
Lansing, Michigan, is a small city with a significantly troubled urban center. In designing its drug prevention policy initiative, the Lansing Housing Commission embraced a nontraditional tact. The result has been a revolutionary alternative to the trappings of public housing life: three on-site Computer Learning Centers have been set up in projects across Lansing. These centers include access to computerized educational activities and games, and provide a centralized location for other recreational opportunities such as sports and theater. Math, reading, history, word processing, geography and English tutoring are all provided by computer. These exercises supplement the often inconsistent public education that students receive in local schools. But instead of being taught in the traditional sense, children who attend the Computer Learning Centers are "coached" by mentors who are often fellow housing project community members and a culture of fun and enjoyment pervades the centers. Youngsters from each housing community can spend up to four hours after school in the safe and stimulating environment of the Computer Centers, avoiding the possibilities of violence and substance abuse in their neighborhoods.
In the past year Lansing has expanded the scope of the Computer Learning Centers to include adult education. These new offerings include technical computer training, clerical classes, business mathematics and word processing instruction. This segment of the Computer Learning Center is administered through Lansing Community College, and adult public housing residents are able to earn college credits towards their associate's degree on site.
The success of the Lansing Computer Learning Centers is illustrated by the level of youth participation: 80 percent of eligible children attend the Centers on a regular basis. This is a tremendous level of involvement considering that the program is only two and a half years old and is able to do very limited outreach. Children reportedly wait outside before the centers open and leave reluctantly at the end of each day. Local school district statistics suggest that the Centers have positively impacted the academic standing of many children and also seem to have a favorable affect on student attendance. Police reports indicate that drug-related crimes among youth have declined significantly since kids have started frequenting the Computer Learning Centers. The relationship between law enforcement officers and the community youth also seems to be improved through the sports programs at the Learning Centers, where police often work at team coaches.
The Computer Learning Centers have had unprecedented positive affects on the housing project community in Lansing. The self-confidence and knowledge-based skills of each participant--youth and adult--have been bolstered and the impact of drugs, the persistent urban pestilence, seems to have diminished.