17 May 2010

New Neighbors, Old Problems

For the past 9 months, I've had "new" neighbors. I live in a neighborhood just outside the "downtown" area, with houses built in the early 1970s and extensively remodeled since. It is, for Our times, an "old" neighborhood with largely old people, folks in their 60s and 70s who have raised their families, seen them move away and in some cases, seen them come back.

As a neighborhood with a largely senior population (Me not included), the place is relatively quiet, day and night. There are small children around, but not many, and those that spend the day here are often spending the night elsewhere. You can drive around the whole place in about 4 minutes, past the basketball court/grassy field and loop around to emerge exactly where you came in (just one entrance/exit for the neighborhood), scattering the pigeons that still wait for the donut lady who's been AWOL for a few months now. All quiet, maybe a dog barking or birds chirping or an engine rumbling. Not serene, but peaceful in an urban way.

Except for My neighbors. One group moved in with blaring fanfare and within a week, another group took the house just next door, so My immediate neighbor and one removed are now these cacophonous freeloaders who turn a quiet residential area into a hustler's den.

Here's what I mean:

--My street was hit with a harsh flood in September 2008. Two houses at the end of it, four doors down from Mine, were abandoned after everything--from furniture to cars--were damaged. The two cars sat behind locked gates from that day until a couple of weeks after the noisy neighbors moved in. Within a 3-day span, they dismantled both cars. How do I know this? I watched them cart the car parts out in a small pickup truck.
--Less than a week after they all moved in, sneakers were slung around a nearby set of telephone and electric cables. Cars and young kids in bikes would swarm down the street, stop for a few seconds at the rounded curve just past My house, in front of theirs, chat briefly and then drive away. The busiest period was between 11:30 p.m. and 2:00 a.m., from Thursday to Saturday. How do I know? I tracked it for a few weeks.

--None of the folks that moved in--5 in one house and I think 7 in the other--has a job. One of the women speaks constantly at 85 decibels (she yells even in normal conversation) and has bragged that she doesn't need to work because she has the government to pay her way. (Both houses are rented under Section 8.) Of the five men, four spend their time working on cars (their own or those of other people) usually in the rounded curve area. Three other women have children and never leave the house alone, but always in pairs or with one of the guys.

--There have been 7 instances of public brawling or public arguing within these two households. Two of the incidents ended in property damage when one of the opportunistic mechanics swung a baseball bat at a new car and shattered the windshield, driver side door window and both outside rearview mirrors and in the other, Loudmouth took off peeling rubber after an argument with her mom and sideswiped a parked car, denting the driver side. The whole menagerie left and the owner of the car, attending a music festival in the town's plaza, spent six months trying to collect damages, only to be stopped by Legal Services because the woman and her family were "destitute."

--Destitution nowadays is different: Both houses receive assistance from WIC, the Food and Nutrition Program (locally known as PAN) and Section 8-discounted utility bills, even though they run their TV sets and ACs all day and wash cars and carports almost daily. The house next to Mine has 3 plasma screens of at least 60 inches each. How do I know? They moved them into the carport during a major "spring cleaning" effort last month. Looked like a Best Buy display as all three were on...even in the carport. Over the past 5 months, both houses have received deliveries from a local furniture chain 11 times (one of My neighbors has a daughter-in-law who works in that store) and according to the store manager, they have bought over $14,000 worth of furniture in that time. Again, how do I know? I went there as if "referred" by them and asked.

--One Sunday morning, just before noon, one of the younger men and two kids who frequently drift in and out on bikes after midnight (though both are barely 10 years old) were caught trying to siphon gas from My car. In broad daylight. In front of My house. When caught, they calmly picked up hose and can and mumbled past Me to their house, no sign of embarrassment at all.

There are other incidents: About a dozen of My neighbors' cars have "lost" rims, possessions inside the car and accessories outside the car. My upstairs neighbor (the house is split) caught one of the men in her laundry room (open porch area in the back of the house) pretending to be searching for a ball. She is a kind lady in her early 60s and after that incident, she left to stay with her daughter for nearly a month. I have caught 2 of them in My backyard, supposedly looking for a rabbit...but they could have done that by standing in their backyard and simply looking into My backyard instead of invading My space. Because that's what they do: invade space and start grabbing what they can.

Four times I have gone to the local police department, with My notes to explain what's going on. Their response? "We know about them." And that's it. When I wanted to press charges on the attempted siphoning (happened last month), I was told I had no case. Possibly true (fingerprints, anyone?), but part of the police's job is prevention, and wouldn't a brief visit serve as notice? In the entire time the "new" neighbors have lived nearby, despite the many incidents, calls, visits and complaints about the loud music, petty theft, illegally-parked cars, illegal business operations (mechanical and otherwise) and trespassing, there's been only one visit by the police. One. And that from the owner of the bat-beaten car who swore a complaint against her nephew who wielded it.

Uh-huh: blood is thicker than water.

So, what are My options?
1) Ignore it all.
2) Let them know--again--I'm watching.
3) Try to get them kicked out as undesirables under Section 8.
4) Keep badgering the police to do their job.
5) Openly confront them, leaving only time and place to be decided.
6) Ambush them when they cross My path again. Because they will.

I'm not built to ignore it, I've already warned them twice (in front of witnesses), Section 8 contracts can only be broken if a crime is committed or severe property damage occurs and My last visit to the police (earlier today) didn't end well after one of the flatheads snidely asked if I was asking for police intervention because "What I did might be what they were doing," implying I was trying to curtail the competition. I snapped back that if he had a brain he could maybe try to figure that out.

Leaves Me options 5 and 6, one hinging on emotional control and the other a preplanned, deliberate choice to do as much harm as possible when given the chance.

Are these really the only options? I had those options when I was a foul-mouthed hothead in high school. Didn't end well then, though I never got really hurt. Seems to Me there should be more than just "street justice" to handle this situation.

When the system doesn't work, the solution has no choice but to come from outside the system. That means the decision is in Our hands, theirs and Mine. I'm pretty sure I know what they are going to do. I'm just not sure of what I will do. But I know I will.

The Jenius Has Spoken.

[Update: 25 May 2010: Less than a week after this post, the more-disruptive neighbors down the street abruptly moved out. I'd like to take credit that My Jenius post did the trick...so I will. On the other hand, My neighbor gave Me more mangoes and told Me that the owner of the miscreants' house threatened to come down, change all the locks in the place and keep every key. When the miscreants went to the Housing Department to complain, they were told the owner could do with his property what he chose to and that there had been too many complaints about them already for the Department to intercede, as it was now primarily a legal issue. Seems there was another way after all...]


The Insider said...

Seems like it has the potential to become a dangerous situation Gil. Tread carefully, as the world would not want to sacrifice *you* for them.

I would avoid watching this Bronson film for the next few months if I were you:


Can you place a sign somewhere near the entrance (with cooperation from your neighbors) of "community under surveillance. License plates recorded"? Maybe their *visitors* wouldn't care anyway...

What would Chi Chi do?

Just in case, keep your books, games, and other valuables on a high shelf. Maybe God will call in a better timed flood to your neighborhood and sizzle some of those plasmas or 14k worth of furniture warehoused by your supposedly economically challenged neighbors.

Is Banco Popular issuing a section 8 gold card now?

Fran and Steve said...

We're moving to PR soon. We'll have rejas, guns, security cameras, and a security alarm system, at the very least. Can't you get pictures or video of them engaging in criminal activity?

GCSchmidt said...

Insider, I think I got some of the bile out, so it should help. But you is right, My man, you is absolutely right.

Fran and Steve, I'm happy to hear you are moving to My Island and horrified that I may have given you a hideous impression of it. Let Me fill you in on some more of the folks in My neighborhood: My neighbor from across the street gives Me mangoes, which are in season now, about 5-6 every couple of days. My next-door neighbor on the opposite side came over to help me fix My wipers, routinely takes out My garbage can for pick-up (I do the same if he's not around) and his son has offered to wash My car while he's washing his dad's. People greet Me with a smiling "Hello" as they pass by, though most of them assume I speak no Spanish. And not a week goes by that I don't see a little gathering of neighbors sharing food, some soft drinks and maybe a little yard work effort to help out. If I were a better neighbor (more active, outgoing, friendly) they'd be even more so with Me. As a very old lady once told Me: "Your neighbors are often what you are, reflected." Come to My Island, get to know your neighbors and if some of them aren't as friendly as you'd wish, you'll find them to be a small minority indeed. Thank you for commenting and Best Wishes.

Fran and Steve said...

Being an Army brat took me away from "My Island", and I ended up settling down in CA. Soon, hubby and I will retire in PR. We are aware that you can't stereotype Puerto Ricans and that the overwhelming majority are as you described above. But the system is more corrupt and/or unwilling there (not by much), so you have to use your own resources to stay safe against those few bad apples. Thanks for your Jenius insights. Fran