Good editorial in today’s News & Record: “Clearing out The Block”:
Greensboro police last week stepped up loitering enforcement and effectively cleared the place known as “The Block.” Just like that.
Through a series of 30-minute patrols, officers shooed away the clusters of mostly men who routinely gather at the notorious hangout near the corner of South Elm and Eugene streets.
People who live in the neighborhood see The Block as a blight and a nuisance, if not a danger.
The owners of a nearby convenience store also blame The Block for panhandling, theft and fights on their premises. “If we only call the police once or twice in a day, that’s a lucky day,” the manager of the FastServ at Elm and Eugene, Sun Post, told the News & Record’s Lorraine Ahearn last week.
Ron Surgeon, who once owned a McDonald’s franchise at the same location, voiced similar concerns eight years ago.
What took the city so long?
The groups who congregate there also tend to be clients of the Greensboro Urban Ministry’s soup kitchen and homeless shelter, as well as the HealthServe clinic. Most of them are addicted, unemployed or otherwise down on their luck.
The Block, of course, is only a symptom of other, tougher problems: homelessness, drug abuse (especially crack cocaine) and the state’s failed mental health reform efforts, to name a few.
The opening of a revamped, county-funded substance-abuse treatment center on Wendover Avenue has been helpful but provides very limited bed space for crack addiction.
A planned new homeless day center at Murrow Boulevard and East Washington Street also should help. The county commissioners’ pledge last week of $275,000 to help pay for the project should now allow construction to move forward.
The Block seems to have been around forever. But it drew renewed attention during a recent debate over the placement of artistic benches along a leg of the Downtown Greenway that passes through the area. Residents of the neighboring Warnersville community complained that the benches only made a bad situation worse, attracting more drug use, vagrancy and “lewd acts.”
As the greenway project expands, says one advocate for the homeless, Michele Forrest, expect more harsh realities to be exposed to plainer view. A homeless camp in the Freeman Mill Road area lies in the path of the next leg of the greenway, she says.
As for the benches, they eventually were removed, though some people disputed allegations that they attracted unsavory behavior.
No one disputes the existence or impact of The Block.
Residents have a right to expect to live free of the daily nuisances, and worse, that came with it. But enforcement won’t succeed in the long run without sustained attention to what drives people to street corners in the first place.
Until that happens, they simply will create a new Block somewhere else.
I usually just quote and link, but this time I’m reprinting the entire editorial. Sometimes older N&R links expire, and this a really good editorial, so I want to make sure I have copy of it.
Be sure to click through to the original, though, for the comments.
NOTE: The editorial says: “The groups who congregate there also tend to be clients of the Greensboro Urban Ministry’s soup kitchen and homeless shelter…” This is incorrect. While the guys on the block do eat at Potter’s House (soup kitchen), none of them stay at Weaver House (homeless shelter). Greensboro Urban Ministry has a strict policy that any shelter guest found hanging out on the block gets kicked out. You won’t find shelter guests on the block.