Residents, city give Junction neighborhood some elbow greaseWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Residents in Toledo’s Junction neighborhood decided they were going to do something. They weren’t going to stand by while people dumped trash in their vacant lots, renters grew their grass knee-high and kids walked over cracked pavement and broken glass to school.
So they started meeting on porches. They put their heads together and tried to come up with a plan of attack. A community organizer out of Cleveland got wind of their efforts and came over to help.
Then they turned to the City of Toledo’s Department of Neighborhoods and the movement took off. The city brought in lawn mowers, and about 15 young people mowed down the tall grass. That was in 2010, and organizer Alicia Smith hasn’t looked back.
“It’s about the community; it’s about the youth,” Smith said in regard to her continual push for progress.
She calls their efforts simply the Junction Avenue Project, and it involves many different people from city departments to nonprofit programs to the average citizen. Everybody gives a little bit of elbow grease to revitalize the neighborhood and turn it into a place people want to live.
At a recent neighborhood meeting, which happen every third Monday at the Frederick Douglass Community Association, the Lucas County Land Bank, the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG), Toledo City Council and the Toledo Police Department (TPD) all showed up, not just to give face time, but to actively participate in the improvement of the neighborhood.
The Lucas County Land Bank is working with Smith to funnel money toward removing abandoned homes.
So far, 100 houses have been razed since about 2012.
Kari Gerwin of TMACOG is working with the neighborhood to increase green space while making more efficient use of storm sewers to combat sewage overflows and flooding.
Smith and others are conducting an early voter registration drive supported by the city in which dozens of people have signed up to vote, and they have a new newsletter to get the word out called “Function in the Junction.”
Oscar Hill has lived in the Junction neighborhood for 22 years and has been coming to the neighborhood meetings for the past eight.
The biggest problem living in the Junction neighborhood, he said, are transient renters who come in for months and leave before Hill and others have any clue as to who they are. By that time, they’ve let their grass grow wild or they’ve dumped trash.
The goal, he says, is to instill in the people who are “on the move” more pride in their properties and one way to do that is to lead by example.
“Getting people to buy into the pride issue of where they live and being able to sustain it,” that’s the problem, he said. “We need to stay unified to really get results.”
Harvey Savage, executive director of the MLK Kitchen for the Poor at 650 Vance St., worked with Soul City Boxing Club over the summer to keep neighborhood kids out of trouble.
Savage said the second Saturday of every month is “Dump Day” in the neighborhood to help residents clean up their homes and streets. He agreed with Hill that the biggest problem in the neighborhood is the lack of ownership. He said residents need to step up and take responsibility.
“The city can’t take care of all the gray spots,” he said. “Citizens need to be a part of that.”
Several residents were upset over ongoing illegal dumping. One man said culprits bring a different couch practically every night to one location at Belmont and Detroit avenues.
“We’ve got rats big enough to wear a field pack. You’d think they’re in the Army,” said one irate resident.
Paula Hicks-Hudson, president of Toledo City Council, said what the neighborhood needs is enforcement.
“We need more of us to call the mayor’s office,” she told the group assembled Aug. 18. “I share your frustrations.”
As for abandoned houses, Hicks-Hudson said there’s no money in the city’s demolition fund. The money is all in the Lucas County Land Bank fund.
“I’m hoping when we do the budget we’ll put money into demolition,” she said.
The Junction neighborhood is in Hicks-Hudson’s City Council district. She said during a telephone interview days after the meeting that she fully supports what the residents are trying to do.
“I’m there as a district Council-person to support them, as a citizen and a representative of them because that’s my district,” she said. “They elected me, therefore I represent them and I want to help in the success of their endeavors.
“That’s what residents should be doing, is taking leadership and self-determination as to how the neighborhood should be and what it should look like. I see my role as someone to help them achieve those decisions.”
Hicks-Hudson coordinates information about city resources and brings in city departments to the meetings to discuss solutions. Their issues have evolved from focusing on violence and police response times to illegal dumping, tall grass and rodents.
Hicks-Hudson is concerned about the lack of public transportation and jobs, the dumping that continues to plague the neighborhood and the dearth of public resources to combat vacant homes.
“Sociologists talk about the broken window,” Hicks-Hudson said. “If you allow it to stay broken and don’t fix it, it will [encourage] more disrepair and many of the residents are feeling it’s regressed to the point that their issues are not being addressed or heard. We’ve got these problems, but what is our response to them? They are banding together and becoming a powerful voice that speaks, and making these determinations of what is the No. 1 issue.”
The TPD has a strong presence in the neighborhood via community policing officer Kimberly Darrington.
Darrington has been literally sifting through trash to look for objects that will help identify those who dump garbage. She called the city three times about a single location, hoping to land some prosecutions.
“I go out and see the dumping and call the city and get frustrated when I see more dumped. I hate it so much I go out there into the trash,” Darrington said. “We (the police) get frustrated. We want to be there. We want to catch people.”
In one case, she was able to catch the culprits when a neighbor who witnessed the dumping agreed to testify in court.
Smith said residents are told to take note of license plate numbers but not pursue when they see illegal dumping.
Darrington will soon move to a different district. She will be replaced by a new community officer for the Junction neighborhood, Officer Jim Below.
Days of Caring
“Dump Day” is by far the largest self-directed event in the Junction neighborhood but the largest sponsored event is the “Days of Caring” by United Way of Greater Toledo, which focuses on youth development and enrichment, Smith said.
On Sept. 12, nearly 2,000 volunteers participated in several painting, cleaning and landscaping projects meant to spruce up areas, including painting a mural at the Soul City Boxing Club, erecting a welcome sign and weeding, mulching and painting a barrier walkway at the Frederick Douglass Community Association.
United Way also partnered with Live Well through the YMCA and other partners to create safe walkways to school, including creating street islands and installing crosswalks.
To become involved in the Junction Avenue Project, call Smith at 419-215-9243, email email@example.com or send a letter to the Frederick Douglass Community Association, 1001 Indiana Ave., Toledo, OH, 43607.