Are you familiar with the day-to-day habits and routines of the other residents in your community? Would you notice if your neighbors deviated from their normal patterns?
Perhaps you try not to pay too close attention to avoid seeming like the proverbial nosey neighbor. However, there’s a big difference between being a busybody and having a general awareness of your neighbors’ regular activities. Knowing their routines enables you to quickly realize when something is awry, especially for residents who live alone. And in a true emergency, that awareness could literally save a life.
Community awareness in action
Bobbie Anzalone, a community association manager with FirstService Residential, knows firsthand the importance of noticing when someone deviates from their normal routine. “A long-term resident of a community that I was managing had her habits, and we would see her all the time,” Anzalone recalls. “And she wasn’t out there on a particular day.”
Anzalone became concerned when an organization that provides transportation to seniors called to say that the woman had missed her ride. She went to the woman’s home where she found a stack of newspapers at the door and heard the television blaring even though no one answered her knocks.
Anzalone then contacted the out-of-town homeowner and scheduled a wellness check with the local police department. Police and firefighters met the homeowner at the house and found the resident on the floor. “She had fallen and been on the floor for 4 days,” says Anzalone. She was taken to the hospital where she was diagnosed with dehydration and a fracture. Fortunately, she made a full recovery.
Recognizing when a neighbor may be in trouble
Neighbors who are also friends are more inclined to look out for each other and have each other’s phone numbers, so make an effort to befriend the residents who live near you. In addition, friends usually know each other’s routines and inform each other if they will be away or if someone in their household is ill. They also feel more comfortable giving each other keys to their home.
Even if you’re not close friends with your neighbors, make a point of keeping an eye out for these telltale signs that a neighbor may need your help:
- A stack of newspapers. Chances are that your neighbor isn’t simply away if newspapers begin to pile up at the front door. People who are traveling usually stop delivery or ask a neighbor to pick up their newspapers.
- Overflowing mailbox. Similarly, someone who is traveling will have their mail held at the post office or ask a neighbor to collect it. A bulging mailbox could indicate a problem.
- No one driving out. If your neighbor has a regular driving routine (for example, leaves for work at the same time every day) and suddenly doesn’t leave the house for several days, check in on them. Sure, it’s possible they are just taking some time off, but it’s best to verify.
- Missing a daily walk. Someone who routinely walks through the neighborhood at the same time every day – especially if that walk involves a pet – could need help if they aren’t following their normal routine.
- Neglecting to answer the door. Although it’s possible that you didn’t notice your neighbor leaving, a fall or other health issue could also be the reason someone doesn’t respond to a knock or doorbell. Never attempt to break into someone’s home, however, even if you’re worried about their wellbeing. Instead, contact your property manager or ask the police to do a wellness check.
- Missing appointments. As in the situation that Anzalone described, missing an appointment could indicate that your neighbor is facing some kind of health crisis. Follow up if you discover that your neighbor didn’t show up where they were expected.
Tips for fostering community awareness
Beyond taking it upon yourself to be a more aware neighbor, you can also turn to existing resources or spearhead a community-wide effort to encourage residents to become more tuned into their neighbors:
- Neighborhood social networks. Sites such as NextDoor and Help Your Neighbor enable you to share information with your neighbors and contact them. However, these sites generally don’t allow you to define the neighborhood as your specific community association.
- Neighborhood Watch programs. If your goal is to deter crime, you can coordinate with local law enforcement to form a Neighborhood Watch. Although neither your community association nor your property management company can take responsibility for the group, you and other residents can still work together to keep an eye on the neighborhood and report suspicious behavior to police.
- Community directory. If residents are willing to share their contact information, your board or property manager can collect that information and distribute it via an online or printed community directory. This would allow you to easily get in touch with a resident you are concerned about and enable someone who is having an issue to quickly contact a nearby neighbor for assistance. Your property management company may have a tool that can help! For example, FirstService Residential’s property management software, FirstService Residential Connect, has a built-in directory. Contact information is only published for residents who opt in, but it’s a great place to start keeping in touch.
- Buddy system. Having a specific person available to a resident living alone – especially if that resident is elderly or disabled – can be a tremendous comfort and permit them to continue living independently.
- Community awareness event. Your association could host an awareness event to educate residents about the benefits of knowing their neighbors’ routines. Use this function to enable association members to sign up for inclusion in the directory and for residents living alone to be matched with buddies. This would also provide an opportunity to remind residents who to call for various issues.
- Neighbor-to-Neighbor committee. Find out if your association’s board would consider establishing a committee dedicated to community awareness. This committee could take ownership of the community directory, the buddy system and any other community awareness programs the association wants to develop.
Creating a sense of community involves more than just being a member of the same association. It also means caring about the people who live around you.