Along with older residents whose kids played among the local arabbers, there were young parents at a protest last night in front of a Southwest Baltimore building where the number of drug treatment patients recently doubled by roughly 500.
“We’re not against drug treatment,” said Scott Kashnow, of Franklin Square, who has an 11-month-old son. “We’re against concentrating too much of it in one place. This is going to drive away families.”
“We’re like a dumping ground for all the problems of the city,” said Betsey Waters, of Arlington Avenue, as about 70 people walked the sidewalk holding up signs for passing motorists.
Waters pointed to the 1001 W. Pratt St. building purchased recently by the Abell Foundation and now the home of a 525-patient methadone clinic, moved there in January by the University of Maryland from a previous location on Fayette Street, in its medical school campus.
More than a thousand other substance abuse and mental health patients receive day and residential treatment in the area, according to city-compiled data, making parts of West Pratt Street seem like a small city of service recipients during the day.
“Where do you think the drug dealers come to sell? To these people, when they get out of the building,” said Jane Buccheri, a leader of protest organizer The Southwest Partnership.
Waters has lived on Arlington Avenue for 30 years and remembers when it was safe enough for her children to play in the street.
“Now, I look out my door in the morning and I can pinpoint all the drug dealers,” she said. Why would today’s young couples stay and raise their kids there, she said, expressing a theme of the protest.
“We Are Going to Shoot”
Many held signs that said “We are the 10,000,” a reference to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s vow to increase Baltimore’s shrinking population by 10,000 people.
Among the picketers were people carrying children on their shoulders, filming the protest on cell phones and posting their location – the corner of West Pratt Street and Arlington Avenue – on Foursquare.
A 40-year-old mother of two who has lived nearby for 10 years, was asked if she was one of the people who might leave because of problems related to the clinic patients.
Dagmar Wehling paused, gulped, and responded with a story.
“We had two incidents where people came into our backyard and climbed over a six-foot fence. The second time I was alone with my kids having dinner. We heard voices say ‘We are going to shoot!’” she recalled.
“I told my kids to run upstairs. The police were out there and somebody was hiding under our porch. He really put up a fight,” she said.
Now she worries about the possibility the man left a gun behind that her children could find: “The police searched our yard for 30 minutes.”
Wehling said she and her husband came from Germany because he got a job in between Baltimore and Washington and that they chose to settle in Southwest Baltimore because it was affordable and “because we love city life.”
So are they rethinking the whole thing?
“We bought a house we are going to renovate,”she said. “Now we’re seriously considering not doing it.”
Robert C. Embry, president of the Abell Foundation, said his group simply owns the building and was trying to help the University of Maryland relocate its clinic.
Embry said residents concerned about the concentration of treatment centers in the area should talk to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
The mayor’s office of communications has not responded to several requests for comment by The Brew.
Safeway, Other Businesses “Driven Away”
Many said the protest pained them because they have personal or professional sympathy with people struggling with drug and mental health problems.
Still, large numbers of treatment patients panhandling or shoplifting have driven businesses away, said John Compher, a case manager for the Department of Social Services who lives in the 1100 block West Lombard St.
“We used to have a Safeway, a Pep Boys and a Rite Aid,” said Compher. “They drove all that away.”
Compher said he moved in to the area back in the early 90s when the Hollins market area was a bohemian hub, with popular restaurants like Mencken’s Cultered Pearl and Rudy’s Patisserie.
“We thought it was going to be the next Fells Point,” he said with a wry grin.
Several protesters said it pained them to even be talking about the neighborhood’s problems, since they are working so hard to stress its strengths.
“In Pigtown, I feel like I’m part of a community,” said Christina Bradley, in a phone interview with The Brew. “There are wonderful people here and all these great watering holes, like Tommy’s Downtown Tavern, Café Calypso. The Ethiopian place, I always take visitors there, it’s great.”
But it’s hard to persuade others to settle there and combat the vacancy problem, she said, with the treatment profusion of patients in the neighborhood.
“You see a lot of people falling asleep while they’re standing up, people loitering on the corner to sell drugs,” Bradley said.
“I’ve had people dealing drugs behind my house. They’ll say ‘Sorry maam’ very politely and move on, but it’s still something you don’t want to see.”
Many said they feel City Hall has forgotten the southwest corner of Baltimore, talking a good game about trendy topics like “food deserts,” but burdening neighborhoods with challenges that exacerbate the problem.
Denise Dutton, of Pigtown, suggested a more effective way to battle the food desert problem than any program.
“Why don’t we try to make it safe here, so businesses will move in and provide healthy food?”