On The United Way: CPHA Detoxes the Streets Mike Field ---------------------- Staff Writer Before the neighbors got themselves organized, the Boyd-Booth Community in Baltimore's west side was the scene of open-air drug markets and violent crime of all sorts, including drive-by shootings. Community members wanted the drug dealers out, but were uncertain how to go about removing them. The drug dealers, after all, were armed, and not a few of them seemed willing to shoot first and ask questions later. The idea that unarmed citizens could send the dealers packing seemed preposterous. Preposterous, that is, until the Citizens Planning and Housing Association--a Baltimore-based United Way-funded nonprofit group--joined forces with the Boyd-Booth Concerned Citizens to solve the problem. "The police initiated some raids that brought a slight reduction in drug activity," said CPHA's Kevin Jordan, who helped organize and coordinate the community response to the drug infestation. "But police activity only temporarily displaces the drug dealing. It takes sustained community response to eliminate it entirely." Working through CPHA's "Community Over Drugs" program, Jordan helped community leaders devise an anti-drug strategy meant to discourage the dealers from returning to their familiar turf. "We did a large march with the mayor to get more members of the community involved," Jordan said. "Then community leaders sat down and came up with specific proposals to make it physically more difficult to deal drugs in the neighborhood." Using the concept of "defensible space," the community convinced the city to add additional lighting and install fencing across certain alleys to make a quick escape more difficult. They boarded up abandoned buildings, conducted neighborhood beautification projects and held a series of public events to get neighbors out from behind closed doors--including, even, a community cookout held on a street corner notorious for drug activity. "If you tell people 'We're going after the drug dealers,' they get scared, and for good reason," Jordan said. "But if you organize community events around other activities and you bring a lot of people out, then the dealers start to get scared. You don't have to be confrontational to be successful." This comprehensive approach can be highly effective if the experience of the Boyd-Booth neighborhood is any indication. "There has been a noticeable improvement in the neighborhood," said Jordan of the organizing efforts led by CPHA. "Noticeable improvement" is in fact something of an understatement. Police statistics indicate just how successful a community-based response can be. According to recent figures released by the Baltimore City Police, violent crime in Boyd-Booth decreased by 85 percent during the first four months of 1995, compared with the same period three years earlier. The efforts in the Boyd-Booth community have helped a neighborhood regain control of its own streets and take charge of its own future. Now in its 53rd year, CPHA was founded during the Second World War as a citizens advocacy group fighting for improved housing conditions among Baltimore's poor. "People tend to forget that at that time there were extensive slums in Baltimore, many with conditions far worse than you find today," said CPHA spokeswoman Eileen O'Brien. "CPHA was founded on the premise that the only way to achieve anything lasting is through cooperative citizen action. That was our founding philosophy, and it remains our philosophy to this day." A "lean, mean" membership organization with many volunteers and only a few full-time paid staff members, CPHA helps organize communities to help themselves, rather than providing direct services. Over the years, the group has been responsible for a number of important initiatives that have profoundly changed the urban landscape in Baltimore. CPHA members wrote the city's first housing code, helped make curbside recycling a reality, led the fight to remove tobacco and alcohol billboards from inner city neighborhoods and published several classic community self-help manuals such as The Neighborhood Self-Help Handbook, The Take This School and Love It Manual and The Elementary School Report Card. "We've never been a 'do for,' we've always been a 'do with' organization, which is why I think we fit in so well with the United Way campaign," O'Brien said. "Funds provided by the United Way Campaign of Central Maryland are an important source of support for us. The United Way helps us in our efforts to help communities help themselves."
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