Cleaning up Blue Hill Ave., block by block

Sandra Larson | 8/8/2012, 9:59 a.m.
Darryl Smith (L) and the Blue Hill Avenue Neighborhood Response Team in front of Blue Hill...
Darryl Smith (L) and the Blue Hill Avenue Neighborhood Response Team in front of Blue Hill Liquors. The store has been sold to new owners and is now being renovated. Sandra Larson

Kozu, Smith and area residents all noted that during the walks, the team often meets residents who point them to hot spots of drug activity, prostitution or illegal dumping.

“The city can’t do it all alone,” Menino said. “The NRT engages the community. When the community has buy-in, things can get done. They take an interest in the improvements. They won’t let that graffiti come back in; they won’t let the lots get dirty.”

Lorraine Wheeler, a homeowner in the Moreland Street area, has participated in a half-dozen walks and said she has seen the results of the NRT’s efforts in her everyday life.

“This part of Blue Hill Avenue is like a different place,” she said. “So many issues were addressed.”

Wheeler mentioned the closing of a notorious brothel on Mt. Pleasant Avenue and crackdowns on problem liquor stores and public drinking as examples of visible change.

“A friend had a dinner party recently in her yard on Winthrop Street,” she added, “and I was saying, ‘There are no issues at all.’ No large parties, no groups of cars driving down the street looking for prostitutes—those were things we just took for granted before.”

In April, the NRT hosted its third community meeting at the Rev. Dr. Michael E. Haynes Early Education Center on Blue Hill Avenue. More than 100 community members packed the room to hear what the NRT had to say and to voice their concerns and hopes for their streets, blocks, and neighborhood.

At the podium, Smith explained that the NRT’s basic goal is to improve the quality of life along Blue Hill Avenue by tackling prostitution, drug activity, open drinking and loitering while simultaneously raising community participation and spurring economic development.

“Most importantly,” he said, “we want to establish a walkable neighborhood.”

Enforcement is only the beginning of the solution. After a liquor store is closed or prostitution is pushed off a corner, the next challenge is to make sure that the cleaner, safer area remains that way. On a July 11 walk, it was clear that loiterers had simply moved from the liquor store under renovation to the next one a few blocks down.

Real sustainable improvement involves tackling real human problems at their roots. At the Haynes Center meeting, Smith introduced a new set of NRT partners ready to provide treatment for addiction and mental health issues. Representatives from Dimock Health Center, Victory Programs and Metro Boston Alive described medical, counseling and outreach services they can offer to the troubled people the NRT sees. Several noted that when women become sex workers, addiction is often the underlying problem.

“You hear Darryl say we close houses, and that’s a real good thing,” said Kattie Portis, the city of Boston’s substance abuse policy director. “However, that does not take the people off the street, and these people are suffering. These are sisters. They’re somebody’s mother, daughter, friend. We know these women are sick and suffering.”

Portis made a compelling case for compassion and help.

“Treatment works,” she said. “Once a woman gets her perspective again, she can get her life together. She can get her family back, leave the street, get housing, get a job.”