Upham's Corner Online

Henriquez Community Meeting March 29, 2011

Posted: April 1, 2011     Nancy J Conrad

Close to 40 people attended the first of five community meetings scheduled by the Fifth Suffolk District Rep, Carlos Henriquez held at 550 Dudley Street.  While he came prepared with his own action items, Carlos was more interested in the issues raised by his constituents.  Before being elected, he was critical of how the elected officials showed "a lot of energy and were very visible during the campaign but did not sustain that level of energy until it was time to campaign again."

The five meetings are at different locations within the district.  There will also be morning and Saturday meetings to give as many people a chance to raise issues and let their voices be heard.

Councilor Ayanna Pressley, Councilor Tito Jackson and Joy Depina of Councilor Arroyo's office were also present.
It is generally believed that District 7 is not receiving the same level of city services as many other parts of the city.  In particular, street cleaning and enforcement were discussed at length.  Traffic on Dudley Street and Columbia Rd are a big problem.  Part of that stems from insufficient commercial loading zones.  But when parking restrictions have been put in place, they are not enforced.

Blue Hill Ave close to Grove Hall is now being described as the "new combat zone" due to the prostitution, drugs and alcohol problems. This issue has been brought up at many meetings over several years.  The problem still exists and many residents had strong opinions about the extent of the problem and what should be done about it.

The "police dept" was described at two levels.  First are the visible police officers.  Some people felt there was not enough officers regularly present to make their presence felt.  Rep. Henriquez pointed out that more officers and less overtime would lead to less overtime cost but a higher healthcare cost.  Funding is a huge problem.

The second level was described by residents who have for years served as "street workers."  Several spoke up stating that many of the City-funded and non-profit programs are ineffective, that the "Boston miracle" stemmed from the detectives and the gang unit who worked the streets and knew the impact players.  They also stated that the street workers are being compromised because they are being asked to operate like police.  You can't have it both ways.  Either you have the trust of the gang members or you act like the police.

Councilor Pressley spoke strongly about prevention vs intervention.  It is not enough, she said, to put in place prevention programs.  You have to be where the action is.  You have to actively engage (intervention) with the youth when the problems arise.  Too often, youth are not treated as human beings, but rather as "things."  What makes a difference is a youth's ability to get and maintain a job.  The emphasis on the City's highly-touted youth summer jobs program is fine but it fails to follow through on a continuing segment of youth - those in the age range of 18 to 24.  These youth are being forgotten.

Suffolk District #5 and City District 7 are suffering from voter apathy which carries over into a lack of involvement in community activism.  Getting out the vote, showing the city that our residents care, having a voice and demanding change - this is the only way that any attention will be paid to Roxbury and Upham's Corner.  It is essential to rally the masses in any way we can.  This message was carried by Rep. Henriquez and Councilor Pressley.

Specific issues were brought up about Upham's Corner including residential street cleaning, loitering outside Camilo's Liquors and harassment, commuter rail passengers parking on Monadnock St during the day and the ugly 5-6 story building next to the commuter rail.

Street and sidewalk cleaning
Henriquez is going to be asking Mayor for street cleaners to clean our major thoroughfares every single night.  He also plans
"to write a letter to the business owners in this area asking them to clean the sidewalk in front of businesses once or twice a day.  I don't think that just the city should be responsible for the cleaning." 

One resident suggested implementing a regular street cleaning cycle on all of the streets as exists in other sections of the city.
Henriquez is sensitive to this issue saying that he "will get some pushback on this idea because some residents prefer cleaning their own street and not having to move their cars."

A resident pointed out that "an ordinance already exists saying that the businesses are responsible for cleaning the sidewalk in front of their business."

This brought up the issue of enforcement.  According to Henriquez "there is not good enforcement.  As an example, take-out restaurants are supposed to be putting their name on the napkins, boxes and bags.  That doesn't get enforced well.  They are also supposed us have trash cans outside of their businesses but that is not enforced."

He gave another example:  "On this section of Dudley, the traffic was frequently stopped due to the presence of delivery trucks.  So we had a two car length space satisfies set aside for commercial delivery but because it is not enforced, it isn't doing any good."
Trash in residential areas
A resident on Magnolia Street stated "There are two vacant lot across the street that get filled with debris and are not maintained.  One is owned by the city and one is owned privately.  The private lot has back taxes of $20,000.  Why is the City not cleaning a lot they own and why isn't the City foreclosing on the property that owes $20,000?"

Prostitution & Liquor
Many residents discussed a section of Blue Hill Ave that "has a lot of prostitution and needs to be cleaned up.  But more than that where there is prostitution there are drugs and where there are drugs there are guns."  The group discussed having a regular neighborhood walk-through similar to Dudley's Neighborhood Response Team (NRT). 

This quickly led to a discussion about the bars - too many liquor licenses and bars staying open too late.

"During the hours when people regular normal people use the streets, the presence of prostitution decreases.  After nine o'clock at night when residents tend to be indoors, that is when the criminal behavior increases.  Why don't we close the liquor stores down at nine o'clock at night?"

There are several ways to approach getting changes in hours.  You can write a letter, non-profits can get involved, you can have walk-throughs.  You can also call 911.  The more calls about a particular site, the more likely it will result in change.

One resident stated:  "Rather than focusing on individual businesses as issues arise, consider forming a group of all the businesses the nonprofit organizations and the residents could come together and establish a means of communication and understanding."

Prostitution is complex problem
Councilor Pressley spoke about the complexities of prostitution and human trafficking.  Most prostitutes are addicted but we lack the right type of drug treatment facilities for women.  Alsothere are 41 states that have laws against human trafficking and Massachusetts is not one of them so bill has been put forward for the Legislature to approve laws against human trafficking.

Funding and the new police station
A resident asked:  "If there are funding problems for example for drug recovery programs or use workers, why is money being spent to build a new police station for area B2?"

Tito Jackson respondeda:  "Money to build a police station  comes from a completely different allocation than money for police community service work or drug addiction etc. B2 is the very last police district to have a new police station built."
Police vs Detectives and the Gang Unit
One resident said: "I don't feel the police are patrolling my neighborhood I don't see them there I may see them on Thursday and not for another two or three days later."

Another resident talked about the importance of detectives and the Gang Unit.  "I worked as a street worker during the Boston miracle.  The place had nothing to do with what took place at that time.  The results came from the detectives and the gang unit.  They knew who the impact players were. 

The street workers had allocation of jobs.  You could come to us and we could give you a job.  You didn't have to sign up for the hope line.  A lot of time the people who advocated for the jobs with the detectives on the gang unit.  What I say is that when we are asking for more police resources, and we should be asking that they integrate in the gang unit, there should be more officers of color in the gang unit.

We are talking about the quality of life that comes through culture.  We have to establish trust between communities of color and the police.  At one time, we had people in the police and the gang unit and the street workers would cut the kids some slack.  They would even go to court and advocate for these kids to the point that they would say we need an allotment of jobs.  We don't want to be chasing these kids down. 

At this point in time street workers have been turned into law enforcement.  In the past our lives were on the line because of the trust factor we had to establish with kids.  Now I carry papers in my pocket which placed me in the category of the detective instead of a street worker.  You can't politicize the street workers.  It's not a matter of how many street to street workers there are.  We never did have many street workers.  It is a question of scheduling. 

We know intuitively, academically, instinctively right now between Dorchester, Roxbury and Mattapan where the homicides are going to happen.  So we know sitting right here where they're going to happen along the blue Hill Avenue corridor or and exactly how far to the left how far to the right.

Do we have the will of our elected officials to go and stand up for the quality of life?  That's what it comes down to.  These issues are not occurring in East Boston, South Boston, Charlestown, the North End.  If you compare how Roxbury is being treated (Blue Hill Avenue) compared to the incident on the Boston Common, you could bring all the right word resources and Roxbury and just shut the crime down.

Rep. Henriquez said:  "I do not want to draw the line down around communities of color.  It really is a poverty issue." 
Rallying the masses
Repl Henriquez talked the importance of numbers.  "The emphasis is on how many people you have supporting you in your positions.  If you have tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people supporting you in saying something needs to be done here in Roxbury, then maybe it will get done.

We need everybody we can get our hands on to listen to speak up and to register to vote.  That's what makes the difference, the vote.  Money goes where the vote is and truth be told, poor communities don't vote.  You can provide all the excuses you want about why people don't vote. 

But if we have 10,000 or 20,000 voters behind us, we can do anything – fix potholes, change streetlights, solve crime problems.  Believe me, the police commissioner would make the police leave their cars and walk the streets if we gave them a stack of 20,000 signatures.

We need the patience and the help of the citizens to accomplish this.  Block by block we need to be able access all of the people who are willing to support these efforts.
Prevention vs. Intervention
Councilor Pressley raised the issue of prevention vs. intervention. 

"A lot of money has been focused on prevention and very little has been focused on intervention and that needs to change.  Prevention is important but there needs to be equity in that commitment.  The youths 18 to 24 are getting left behind.  Summer jobs are focused on the population from 15 to 17.  There is a segment of use that we are abandoning, once they are in the "life", we are abandoning them.  There needs to be equity and commitment for both prevention and intervention.

Everybody here is civically minded.  That's why you're here.  Each one of you has a circle of influence of 4-9 people.  We need you to reach reach out to those people and get them involved as well.  And we need you to wield that influence to get more people engaged.  Much to my work around breaking poverty and violence cycles and (I see them closely connected) is on the family side.  I see that is both prevention and intervention in. 

As an example many of the single household families are headed by women and grandmothers.  The most vulnerable households are the single head of household but many of these are grandparents.  They have a unique set of challenges.  And they cry out but they need help.

The post audit committee is chaired by counselor Yanci.  This is one of the most effective ways for making sure that the taxpayer money is used in the right way.
Upham's Corner
Resident:  The five or six story monstrosity next to the commuter rail track, what can be done about that?  The answer is not much.  Councilor Arroyo's office looked into this.  The owner is up-to-date on taxes, so there is nothing the City can do.

Some of us care about the cleanliness of the residential streets.  It's not enough to just clean the main thoroughfares.  When the street sweeper comes down Monadnock St, it cleans the center of the street and pushes the trash to the sides because cars are parked on both sides.

Another resident stated that requiring 2/3 of the property owners to agree to street cleaning before the City puts it in place does not make any sense.  You can be constituent oriented, but if a group of residents want to live in a way that degrades the appearance of the city, then the City needs to step in with a standard on how the entire city will present itself.

Another issue:  With the increased popularity of the commuter rail stop, people are driving to Monadnock Street, parking their cars and walking to the train station.  You can see the reverse at the end of the day when they walk up the street with their briefcases, enter their cars and drive away.  We need to institute residential parking only.

Camilo Liquors is a problem.  One resident (female) is harassed by the alcoholics that loiter in front of the liquor store.  She has to cross to the other side of Dudley Street.  They also beg for money and are willing to buy liquor for each other and for minors.  Several months ago, Sgt Brooks cited Camilo's but the police have never followed through on the loitering problem since.

One resident recalls that the prior owner had shorter hours.  How did Camilo get its hours extended?  It opens at 9am and closes at 11pm.  Why wasn't the neighborhood association involved in this change?
Resident based initiatives
One resident builds relational databases for a living and has a database of 300,000 voters.  He can provide highly selective lists that would allow us to rally large groups of voters/residents around specific community issues. All we have to do is ask him.

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