Less than a year ago one man died as a result of a shooting on West Street and the area has been plagued by loitering, loud music and possible drug activity, but Tuesday night residents of the beleaguered street took the first steps toward reclaiming their neighborhood.
Approximately 30 residents were in attendance from West and surrounding streets, including pastors of two local churches, investors, police and city councilwomen. All were there to listen and to voice their concerns for the neighborhood.
One of those in attendance was Connie Malone, who is refurnishing some homes in the West Street area. When she began she said there was a pick-up truck full of broken liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia that had to be picked up from around the properties.
"We talked with some long-term residents that have charming properties," she said. "And they are uncomfortable coming out of their own houses. The quality of life has changed for some of the long-term residents, and there are some younger couples that have concerns for their children’s safety. There are a number of things going on like loud parties, some drug and shot houses scattered here and there and people drunk and staggering in the street – yelling and fighting. There are issues and the residents just didn’t know how to go about solving them."
According to Malone, revitalization efforts by the city seemed to stop at the Clark’s Grove neighborhood. "And they shouldn’t have," she said.
"West Street is the first impression a lot of people have of the city of Covington. The community as a whole is a wonderful group of people – those they are having problems with are not all people who live on West Street, they are sort of transients that come to West Street."
Covington Police Captain Willie Davis agreed, saying that many of the people causing the most problems on West Street are not residents there, and many who choose to engage in less savory activities turn off of West and onto some of the side streets to conduct their business.
"There’s an overwhelming majority of people in the community are doing the right thing," said Davis. "Sometimes they are not getting involved actively to be part of the solution because they aren’t being proactive and calling the police to report the illegal activities they see. But I believe the individuals that came to the meeting are taking a step in the right direction. We want people to feel safe and secure in their community – that is the most important thing."
According to Davis, patrol has been increased in the area at the neighbor’s requests, and block captains have been named in West Street’s brand new Neighborhood Watch program.
"Just like in a lot of communities the people who live in them are the best eyes. They are there day in and day out and sometimes see things that we don’t see. If they report things then we [Covington Police Department] take an active approach to defining what the problem addressing it."
Davis said that statistically, crime on West Street is not as prevalent as many areas inside the city. And much of the activity that is a concern of residents isn’t illegal in and of itself but that many times, it is a precursor to criminal behavior, and it attracts others to the area that have ill intentions.
The Rev. Mencer Reed, pastor of the West Street Community Baptist Church, said that his church has been broken into several times and even had the air conditioning stolen before. In the 21 years the church has called West Street home, only in the last five years has Reed seen bad behavior on the rise.
"There are a lot of people [on West Street] that love the Lord and want what’s best for the community," Reed said. "There’s been a lot of darkness but now I’m starting to see the light beginning to show."
City council members Janet Goodman and Ocie Franklin were present, as was council woman Hawnethia Williams, who represents the residents of West Street. Williams said that she remembered days when people in the city didn’t have to lock their doors and that many of the West Street residents do as well.
"A lot of these people are used to having unity in their neighborhoods," said Williams. "It’s a shock to your lifestyle when things start getting out of order. Many residents are senior citizens and you should not have to spend your golden years dealing with undesirable people in your neighborhood."
Williams said she was impressed with the residents’ willingness to come together with one another, religious leaders and law enforcement and to take a stand by starting a Neighborhood Watch program on West Street.
"They are willing to take a stand," said Williams of her constituents on West Street. "They are ready to say ‘enough is enough’ and to do what is necessary to reclaim their neighborhood."
Williams said that she hoped residents would continue to meet and to work with law enforcement by calling them when they felt something was amiss and cooperating in keeping less desirable elements from their neighborhood.
"People are beginning to say ‘I don’t have to live like this’ and ‘I refuse to live like this’ and ‘I am taking a stand,’" said Williams. "What affects one of use is going to eventually affect all of us – either directly or indirectly. I feel that with everyone involved, hand in hand we can let this undesirable element know we are not going to put up with this and we are going to do whatever it takes to either have you act right or move out of the neighborhood."