It might not have had the fiery vitriol of the first informal gathering, but last week’s first official meeting of tentatively named Port Richmond West Community Action Network was an informative affair intended to help residents organize to benefit their neighborhood.
And, for the more than 40 locals on hand, the meeting allowed them to not only learn about bringing needed city services to the area west of Aramingo Avenue in Port Richmond — where residents say they feel ignored — but to meet others from their neighborhood and know that they aren’t alone in their frustrations.
Held on the rainy evening of Wednesday, Oct. 12, residents met at the Cornerstone Community Church at Allegheny and Frankford avenues. It was a more formal meeting than the initial Sept. 28 gathering at the Port Richmond PourHouse at Clearfield and Weikel streets, which came on the heels of a triple shooting.
That meeting, while a passionate affair, saw little in the way of organization.
The recent gathering allowed representatives from the police, fire department, the city’s 3-1-1 and Town Watch Integrated Services, as well as CeaseFirePA and the nearby New Kensington Community Development Corporation to address the audience and determine how best their groups might support the fledgling organization.
But, some felt more residents should take pride in improving their community.
“This is a nice turnout, but there should be more,” said Sgt. Megan Bolognone of the 24th Police District.
Residents expressed concerns over area youth violating curfew, and D. Michael Blackie, who organized the meeting but refused a leadership role in the group, said the problem is so bad, he thinks police simply ignore the problem.
Bolognone told people to report curfew violations to 3-1-1, a city hotline designed to deal with non-emergency quality- of-life issues.
Another concern for 3-1-1 that was discussed at the meeting was burned-out alley streetlights.
Mark Cooper, assistant managing director of the city’s 3-1-1 service, said that with city cutbacks, streetlights aren’t getting replaced.
“With the city budgeting, a lot of lights aren’t getting replaced,” he said.
Outraged, a woman in the back of the room shouted back at Cooper: “But, the alleyways are where the shootings are!”
The representative told residents to contact their City Council members to let them know where the problem lights are if they feel replacing them is important.
Max Nacheman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, told the gathered crowd how his group is working to help keep illegal guns off the streets.
The group is currently working on a new website that will allow visitors to see recent verdicts on cases of gun law violations so that residents can attend hearings and find out which judges are “lenient” on gun crimes.
“Too often [gun law violators] are given probation because it’s just the defendant, their lawyer and the defendants’ families, (in the courtroom), because the community doesn’t attend hearings,” said Nacheman.
Soon this could change, he said. He told interested residents to watch www.ceasefirepa.org for more information.
While the meeting was mostly informational, residents said they felt that it was important to learn how to work with the city as they begin to organize the newly formed group.
“I learned a lot this week,” said Michelle Tillery, a mother who lives with four daughters on the 3000 block of Wishart Street. “It’s not safe out there … But, I got to meet other people and I feel a lot safer in my neighborhood now.”
Yet, while residents seemed to enjoy the gathering, there was a distinct sense that the new group had no structure or leadership.
Throughout the meeting, Blackie repeatedly told the audience he didn’t want to take a leadership role in the new group — “I don’t want another job,” he said — though he organized the meeting and promised to continue to help organize the group as the growing organization finds its footing.
“It’s early. We don’t even have the name finalized yet,” he said.
Overall, residents Francis Strzelecki and Robert Rodriguez, neighbors on the 3100 block of Tulip St., said that simply coming together as neighbors to discuss concerns and try to find solutions to problems that impact the entire community was a step in the right direction.
“I wish more people would get involved, but this is a start,” said Strzelecki. “And we need to do something because the cops aren’t doing anything.”
Rodriguez agreed, saying he sees people dealing drugs out of their homes and not taking care of their children.
“I see it all the time, and it breaks my heart,” he said.••
Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org