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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Clean-Up at the Southern Boulevard BID

For about the past year, Bronx Community Solutions has been assisting merchants and Community Board Two as they formed a Southern Boulevard Business Improvement District. We send community service crews twice each week to address litter and graffiti.

This article, which was just published in the Bronx Times-Reporter highlights our efforts and the continuing progress the Business Improvement District is making!

Southern Boulevard BID sweeps away litter

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A year and a half ago, Southern Boulevard was dirty. Candy wrappers. Metrocards. Burger bags. Beer bottles.

Community Board 2 asked Community Solutions for help. Community Solutions puts non-violent offenders from the Bronx Criminal Court to work.

Now the strip sparkles, and Southern Boulevard’s Business Improvement District launched its own sanitation effort January 2.

“All good news,” CB 2 district manager John Robert said. “Southern Boulevard looks better, thanks to Community Solutions. Bring on the BID! We want Southern Boulevard attractive and secure.”

According to Community Solutions’ service coordinator, Moises Reyes, Southern Boulevard is a litter corridor – long, busy and windy. Unscrupulous shoppers toss trash on the ground. At night, bottle collectors ransack the strip’s garbage bags.

The litter annoys Southern Boulevard merchants, ticketed by the city when their storefronts aren’t clean. Needless to say, the merchants are fond of Reyes’ team.

“They’ve done a good job,” said Tony, who manages Ashby Furniture and gave only his first name. “Before, the litter was wild. We got four tickets in a single day.”

Bronx Eyecare’s Jazmin Rivera praised “the orange guys.” Reyes’ workers – shoplifters, trespassers, prostitutes and turnstile hoppers – wear bright orange vests.

“It’s helped,” Rivera said. “I don’t have to worry about sweeping up anymore.”

Michael Sylvester of the clothing shop Hip-Hop BX has noticed the BID’s hired hands, too. They wear dark jumpsuits.

“The litter situation is improving,” Sylvester said. “Which is good. This strip gets messed up.”

Community Solutions visited Southern Boulevard Mondays and Fridays, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“The businesses loved it,” Reyes said. “God knows they needed us.”

Community Solutions is no longer needed. The BID has contracted Nelson Services to clean Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“So far, so good,” said Medina Sadiq, the BID’s executive director. “We’re sweeping. We’re cleaning the tree pits. We’re collecting sidewalk trash.”

The Southern Boulevard BID formed a year ago and began to receive funding recently. Sanitation is Sadiq’s first initiative. Up next: security.

Robert blames careless shoppers for Southern Boulevard’s debris.

“It’s the way people behave,” he said. “I’ve seen kids open up candy bars and, in one motion, drop the wrappers to the floor.”

But Robert has faith in the shopping strip.

“Even when the Bronx was burning, Southern Boulevard thrived,” he said. “It may take a generation to change the way people treat the strip, but we’re moving forward.”

The Bryant Hill Community Garden

Recently, here on the blog, we shared a little bit about the story of Lucia Hernandez and the Bryant Hill Community Garden. Bronx Community Solutions partners with Lucia by sending out crews on a regular basis to assist her with work in the garden.

A reporter for the Bronx Times-Reporter got in touch with us to interview Lucia and wrote a story about her:

Hunts Point resident discovers her green space

Thursday, January 22, 2009

In 2000, Lucia Hernandez was homeless. Now Hernandez is queen to a green kingdom, the Bryant Hill Community Garden in Hunts Point.

She’s planted jalapeño peppers, daffodils, tulips, eggplant, pumpkins and callaloo, and dreams of transforming the garden into a Taíno diorama.“Gardening is therapeutic,” Hernandez said. “It’s fun. It’s my therapy. I sweat and my back hurts, but for the first time in my life I feel like I’m accomplishing something.

Taínos are the native inhabitants of the Greater Antilles, including Puerto Rico. Hernandez grew up in the Bronx – on Beck Street, St. Mary’s Street, Daly Avenue, the Grand Concourse and Thieriot Avenue – but identifies as Taíno.

According to her research, the Native American tribes who called the Bronx home – the Wappingers and Siwanoys – could have entertained Taíno visitors. A Native American scholar told Hernandez that the Wappingers in Clason Point possessed a Taíno-like culture.

Hernandez joined the Bryant Hill Community Garden in 2007 and invited her Taíno friends to join. When they declined, she raked and scraped alone. An ex-masseuse and fashion designer, Hernandez stopped working in 2000, crippled by disease. She suffers from fibromyalgia – a painful muscular disorder – sciatica, carpal tunnel, a bulging disk, high blood pressure and a bad bladder.

Hernandez bounced from couch to couch. She spent time in a homeless shelter. Finally, a friend set her up in a Hunts Point basement apartment.

Out back, Hernandez discovered a tiny garden.“I had a breakthrough,” Hernandez wrote in an essay. “I started pulling weeds. That I could create such a beautiful flower and vegetable garden…brought me happiness.”

Two years ago, Hernandez moved to Longfellow Avenue. Lost without a garden to tend, she contacted NYC’s GreenThumb, the nation’s largest urban gardening program. Green Thumb pointed Hernandez to the Bryant Hill Community Garden, a .34-acre slope between Seneca and Garrison on Bryant Avenue. Since then, Hernandez has installed vegetable beds, woodchip paths and a new fence. The garden boasts honeysuckle, rose bushes, a rare hemlock tree, wood benches, garlic plants and a brigade of pest-catching cats.

On Earth Day 2008, volunteers from the New York Botanical Garden, City Year and Sustainable South Bronx landscaped Bryant Hill. Non-violent Bronx offenders join Hernandez every other Wednesday, thanks to Community Solutions. When the weather cooperates, Hernandez spends all day in her garden.

“People walk by and comment, ‘Wow, great job!’” said Hernandez. “It makes me feel so good.” Hernandez is always in pain, but she finds the garden soothing.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Helping Women Escape Abusers

From Danielle Stockweather at the Midtown Community Court (and formerly of Bronx Community Solutions):

Thanks to generous donations from attendees at our recent CHOICES to Change holiday benefit, we now have completed "Go Bags" onsite at the Midtown Community Court for our women who decide to leave abusive situations. These Go Bags are actual duffle bags stuffed with several complete outfits, an array of toiletries and even calling cards.

This week we had a young women in CHOICES (referred to us by our partners at Bronx Community Solutions) who was mired in an abusive relationship and suffering from a life-long heroin addiction. After an intense counseling session on domestic violence (kudos to Courtney Bryan from the Center for Court Innovations's Domestic Violence team for engaging her) she reported to us on Tuesday having left her abuser and declaring that "she wasn't going to take it anymore." But of course, everything she possessed was left behind when she decided to flee. The next morning, we arranged for this young woman to be picked up and taken upstate to Conifer Park for inpatient drug treatment. Because of the donations we received, we were able to offer her some comfort during this difficult transition. To donate, you can go here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Improving Public Trust in Justice

Recently in the Bronx Times, the Wakefield Taxpayers and Civic League (for more about who they are, look here) mentioned Bronx Community Solutions in their weekly column on community conditions, complied by Mary V. Lauro, reporting on their November 20 meeting with the New 47th Precinct Commander, Deputy Inspector Paul DeEntremont:

"Too often in the Bronx, prostitutes who are arrested and appear before judges are given sentences which return them to the street in less than 24 hours. DeEntremont had success in the 48th Precinct where he was commander before coming to us, by working with a group (Bronx Solutions) that presents judges letters written by community organizations decrying the effects f rampant prostitution on communities. In many cases, instead of "time served" the judges gave 30 days. Moreover, since many prostitues have drug problems, the group then works with them to alleviate that problem. That plan will be implemented in the 47th."

Lippman Appointed as new Chief Judge

On Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, several media outlets are reporting that Gov. Patterson has appointed Jonathan Lippman to be the new New York State Chief Judge. The Chief Judge plays two key roles: presiding over the state's highest court of appeals, and serving as the chief administrator of the State court system. Lippman is a life-long Court system employee, and it is anticipated that he will continue to support the problem-solving innovations championed by Judge Kaye.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Life in the Courthouse

Getting to know all the characters in a busy urban criminal courthouse is fascinating. One clerk I know (a former court officer) had these cartoons up in his office and I asked his permission to copy them. I thought they were amusing and they will probably be pretty familiar to anyone who works in the Bronx Courthouse and other places like it, even if they don't identify with everything they depict.

[Click on the images to enlarge]

These reminded me of "cop's rules" I'd read.

-Watch out for your partner first and then the rest of the guys working the tour [shift];

-Don't give up another cop;

-Show balls [physical courage];

-Be aggressive when you have to, but don't be too eager;

-Don't get involved in anything in another guy's sector [car beat];

-Hold up your end of the work;

-If you get caught off base, don't implicate anybody else;

-Make sure the other guys [officers, but not supervisors or administrators] know if another cop is dangerous or "crazy";

-Don't trust a new guy until you have checked him out;

-Don't tell anybody else more than they have to know, it could be bad for you and it could be bad for them;

-Don't talk too much or too little;

-Don't leave work for the next tour;

-Protect your ass;

-Don't make waves;

-Don't give [supervisors] too much activity;

-Keep out of the way of any boss from outside your precinct;

-Don't look for favors just for yourself;

-Don't take on the patrol sergeant by yourself;

-Know your bosses;

-Don't do the boss's work for them [e.g. let them discover miscreant officers for themselves];

-Don't trust bosses to look out for your interests.

(Reuss-Inanni, 1984,: 14-16. Based on observations of NYC police officers. Excerpted in Fyfe, "Good Policing" in Brian Forst, Ed., The Socioeconomics of Crime and Justice, Reprinted with permission in Critical Issues in Policing, Contemporary Readings, Dunham, Roger and Alpert, Geoffrey, Eds. Waveland Press, Prospect Heights Illinois, 2001)

The cartoons are pretty old, and the research that quoted these "cop rules" is from the early eighties. A generation ago, most officers where white and male, as depicted in the cartoons, but now a typical officer could be white, black, or Hispanic, and is just as likely to be male as female. I also suspect that former military service, while once a defining characteristic among court officers, may have become less prevalent among younger officers. However, I wonder whether the core observations about the culture of cops and court officers remain essentially unchanged.