Thursday, November 03, 2005

Residents fight to rid area of drugs, prostitutes

Hello friends,

This story from today's Dayton (Ohio) Daily News reminds me of the prayer actions carried out by several urban congregations I am aware of (Lee Heights Community Church, Cleveland, OH; Harrisburg Church of the Brethren, Harrisburg, PA.).

What do you need to be in the street about, close to your home?

for speaking softly or stridently,
depending on the moment,

Matt Guynn
coordinator of peace witness
On Earth Peace

Twin Towers residents fight to rid area of drugs, prostitutes

By Joanne Huist Smith

Dayton Daily News
November 3, 2005

DAYTON | Eighty-year-old Catherine Oditt stretched her thin arms around the prostitute in a grandmotherly way and talked to her about finding another line of work.

"They feel like nobody loves them," said Oditt, who lives in the Twin Towers Neighborhood. "That's not true."

But Oditt and other residents of the East Dayton neighborhood aren't happy that prostitutes are drifting from busy streets into alleys behind their homes. So the residents have banded together for weekly protest marches through Twin Towers, found the courage to work more closely with police to close down problem houses and even encourage the prostitutes to find other careers. These residents want their neighborhood back.

"Children could walk into their backyard and see this activity. That had never happened before and it was obvious we had to do something," said Diana Watkins, a Twin Towers block leader. "Sincerely, this is a community and we're going to see if we can whip it back into shape."

Prostitution and drugs in Twin Towers go hand-in-hand, said Leah Werner, community organizer for East End Community Services. A lot of the prostitutes are hooked on hardcore drugs and work the streets to support their habits.

So, in May, residents started looking for ways to work with the police to help close down drug houses in their neighborhood.

Every Friday night, they march the streets of Twin Towers spreading their message with a bullhorn and neon-colored protest signs calling for "No more drugs, hookers or johns." The neighbors also are using a police worksheet to provide more detail when they call the drug hot line.

"A lot of citizens call the drug hot line and just give an address and say 'drugs,' " said Dayton Police Lt. Michael Martin, 2nd District commander. "We can spend hours finding out what citizens already know."

Martin estimates drugs are involved in 90 percent or more of the crimes committed in the 2nd District, which includes Twin Towers. Year-to-date, there were 41 drug arrests in 8.32 square miles centered around Xenia Avenue, bounded by Wayne Avenue to the southwest, U.S. 35 to the north, Clover Street to the south and St. Paul Avenue/Pierce Street to the southeast. That's up from 26 in 2004, according to police records. There were 20 prostitution arrests for that period and location in 2004 and in 2005.

"Prostitutes, if working regularly, make over $100,000 a year," Martin said. "Every cent of every dollar, for many, goes into a drug house. These girls, I hate to say it, almost work in shifts."

Residents and people who work in Twin Towers already know that. They've seen them with customers on the porches of vacant houses or on the street at all hours of the day and night.

"I came in to work at 8 a.m. and saw a hooker getting into a car with an older man," said Adella DeLong, a cake decorator for Doebler's Bakery on Xenia Avenue.

Dayton police already have shut down at least six drug houses on Steele Avenue, and Hawker and Pierce streets over the past 12 months through nuisance abatement. Martin praised Twin Towers.

"Crime exists because we allow it. When neighborhoods get fed up with crime and organize against it, between them and us, things will get better," Martin said.

The neighbors also have established a telephone chain to warn each other about suspected illegal activity. When it comes to the prostitutes, the group is taking a friendly approach.

"When we first started, we wanted to railroad them out of our neighborhood," Watkins said. "Now, we're using the approach of love. Many of us could find ourselves walking in their shoes. I reflected on the economy and jobs being lost, high gas prices and heating costs. We decided we were going to reach out to them and show them alternatives."

The group has invited the prostitutes to dinner and with help from Otterbein Methodist Church, 111 Xenia Ave., gave them gift baskets filled with snacks, shampoo, body wash and a Bible. A card attached to each basket offered the name and address of East End Community Services, where the women could get help finding another job.

"A handful have come into the center for job leads. That's how we can measure success," Werner said.

Since prostitution could not exist without customers and drug houses often are rental properties, the Twin Towers group also is planning to attack on those fronts.

"We want to start showing up in the courtrooms when johns appear. We want to start picketing landlord's houses who repeatedly rent to drug dealers," said Mary Loper, spokeswoman for the Twin Towers group, who happens to live in the Linden Heights neighborhood.

"We're just an overpass away," Loper said of her neighborhood. "I've seen the prostitution on Xenia Avenue get out of control. I do this because I wouldn't want it in my neighborhood."

The Twin Towers neighborhood includes a smattering of tidy older homes, mixed with deteriorating rentals and vacant houses. Households are largely middle class or poor with 30 percent reporting they earn less than $10,000 a year, according to 2000 U.S. Census data.

About 40 percent of the residents own their homes. Many share an Appalachian heritage or are part of a recent influx of Latino families. Some, like Dixie Bruggeman, say they'd rather work to make the neighborhood better than move.

"It makes me cry because I know what this neighborhood was like. I hope I live long enough to see my neighborhood come back," she said. "There is hope, because we have so many good people."

Jeff Cartwright, associate pastor of Otterbein Methodist Church, believes the war against drugs and prostitution in Twin Towers is also a spiritual battle. He has organized a weekly 6 p.m. Sunday prayer service for the neighborhood at 624 Xenia Ave.

"I have never seen a more dedicated group of people who desire to have their neighborhood back. It has become their jobs, almost," Cartwright said.

"I would say this neighborhood has a lot of challenges, but there is a lot of hope because there is a group like this in the community."


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