Changing seasons on a `corner'

City Diary -- ELLA DURANT

February 09, 2000

MEN HAVE hung out at Preston Street and Collington Avenue for more than 20 years. Most of them do not live in this area. They drive up as early as 6 a.m. and remain on this corner as late as midnight.

April 25, 1999, 5 p.m.

The Collington Square Neighborhood Association (CSNA) met today to discuss what can be done to impact the neighborhood. Things have been bad for so long, it will take something special to give confidence back to this area. Our thinking is that if we can get the "old men" (whose ages range from 18 to 80) off the corner of Preston and Collington, this will send a real message to our residents. Their presence has sent a negative message for years: public loitering; public drinking; public drugging; public urination; profanity; littering and womanizing. If we can accomplish this, we will gain the respect and confidence of those who live here.

May 1, 1999

Weekends are always busier. The blue-and-white pickup truck arrived, as usual, around 6: 30 a.m. Then car after car, vans, other trucks, vehicles dropping men off and those who walk, until they numbered about 25. They took chairs and liquor out of their vehicles.

One of the young men was sent to get drugs from the 2200 block of Mura St. This transaction was all within sight of the corner. I called the police. The 911 operator wanted descriptions, and I supplied them, some down to the underwear that was showing. Twenty minutes later, the police car cruised through. By that time, everyone who wanted to had had their fixes. The police rode by the crowd, as usual. I am asking myself, "Why call?"

I think the police officers, like most people, are so used to seeing these men that they don't really see them -- they are a normal part of the scenery.

May 8, 1999

CSNA is very new. Today was our first neighborhood walk. We covered every street within our boundary, Washington on the west; a portion of Chase on the south; Milton on the east; and Hoffman on the north.

Lillie, Shirley, Teresa W., Dolores and I walked and were surprised at some of what we had seen. Of course, we saw the drug activity, which we cannot impact greatly except to report it. But the things that we could help to change were not really that bad. It will take hard work and persistence, but we assured each other that we could do this.

In addition to getting the men off the corner, a major effort to clean up some very neglected streets and alleys will make a difference. As we walked today, those men on the corner watched and made smart remarks. All of us have to come back to this corner to get to our houses.

May 21, 1999

This has been a very hot week; the number of people on the corner has been high. There has been more female presence on the corner, also. My husband Bruce and I have had to call the police more often this week.

Some of the men come down and urinate behind our house. The weather is too hot for this; the odor is awful. We must hose down the alley every day. Today we called the police to the corner again. One officer got out of the car, walked over and began slapping hands with some of the men, got back in his car and began driving away.

Bruce stepped into the street and hailed the police car. He asked the officer what was going to be done about the corner. The officer said the men had a right to be there, and they did not have to move.

May 27, 1999

Muffin, Paulette, Shirley, Dolores, Lillie and I walked the neighborhood, passing out fliers about our major cleanup effort this Saturday. As we approached the corner, we realized that the one-story building at Preston and Collington plays a large role in the corner. The building has been vacant for many, many years. Melvin (not his real name) the one corner hanger who lives within yelling distance of the corner, has access to the building. He stores the cans he picks up and chairs in the building. We talked about taking a closer look at this.

May 29, 1999

This is a beautiful day, and it has been great for our community cleanup. We worked hard cleaning streets, yards and alleys. We vowed to not let this area get in such condition again. None of the corner-hanging group was on the corner this morning -- they must have thought we would have asked them to help. We even cleaned the corner. It looks beautiful. Melvin and Reds, both of the corner, were constantly walking back and forth watching us work.

June 4, 1999

Bruce and Lillie, who are both retired, have been sweeping and cleaning the corner all week. They are trying to keep our vow to not let the neighborhood get into terrible shape again.

June 12, 1999, 7 a.m.

We met at Mattie B's [Mattie B. Uzzle Outreach Center] for another neighborhood beautification effort. Karen, a neighborhood developer, came and brought many volunteers with her. Some of the men were on the corner when we started, but they later moved up into Collington Square Park. The view from the park allowed the men to see what was happening.

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