— Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
By Bonnie Belec
For the first time in two years the residents of a downtown St. John’s neighbourhood are able to keep their windows open all night.
Recently plagued by violence, illicit drug use and activities, Tessier Place has risen out the darkness and people are once again enjoying their community as a united group.
“In this heat it is very nice,” said resident Michelle Porter.
“We have our neighbourhood back. Everyone comments on how much quieter it is and on the hot days you can keep your windows open and not hear the fighting or slamming of car doors — when taxis would be waiting in the middle of the night for people to go in and come out with their drugs,” she said.
At the centre of the neighbourhood’s concern was 8 Tessier Pl. Residents have said the house served as a site for illegal drug use.
The house was the subject of many complaints to the city of St. John’s, as well as the RNC, about property issues and disruptive behaviour .
“It just built up over the years and until it was gone. I don’t think we realized how tense we were,” said Porter.
It came to a head in March following an attack which resulted in the death of one man and the arrest of another man who was charged with second-degree murder.
Ken Edward Green, 34, of Mount Pearl, who is before the court, was arrested and charged in connection with the death of 47-year-old Joey Whalen, who was reportedly assaulted at the house and succumbed to his injuries.
Around the same time there was a fire at the house, which has since been renovated and rented again.
“People have put out benches and chairs and sit outside now. It creates a nice atmosphere for kids and it’s like somebody is keeping an eye on them. Whereas before you never let them outside. You just didn’t know what kind of people they would run into or if they’d be running into a needle,” Porter told The Telegram Thursday.
She said the community, with the help of St. John’s Clean and Beautiful, cleaned up the street as well as a small green space off the road — which had been a site for intravenous drug users — formed a Neighbourhood Watch association and are working to involve more people from the area.
St. John’s Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary was instrumental in setting up a meeting with people from the area around the time of Whalen’s death, to try to address some of the residents’ concerns. She agrees things are progressing in the neighbourhood, but is quick to point out not everything has been resolved.
“The city has ponied up in terms of taking care of Tessier Park, and disposing of needles and such,” she said.
“There are definitely distinct improvements. The RNC has been making semi regular visits with the horse in the park, which is a presence there. So things have come along, but the issue of prostitution (in the area) is still happening,” O’Leary said.
When contacted by The Telegram Thursday to ask what the RNC is doing to help address this issue, a spokeswoman said prostitution is complex and involves poverty, addictions, housing and numerous other social issues.
“The RNC is currently working with various stakeholders to address the concerns in this neighbourhood and is providing assistance to prostitutes who seek to stop their involvement in these activities,” RNC media relations officer Const. Talia Murphy wrote in an email.
One of the ways the city of St. John’s is hoping to help the RNC is with the creation of a mayor’s advisory committee on crime prevention. The idea has been accepted by council and the terms of reference were introduced and passed at Monday’s city council meeting.
Mayor Dennis O’Keefe said Thursday the idea came as a result of all the recent crime-related activity, including a home being targeted in a drive-by shooting that was linked to organized crime, prostitution in the downtown core, the fatal beating on Tessier Place as well as concerns by the George Street Association about crime levels and gang-related violence on the street.
“This is about safety and quality of life in the city,” he said when asked if the move was politically motivated in an election year.
“This is an issue of grave concern to people and it has to be acted on immediately. It will be put in place immediately. It has absolutely nothing to do with the election and the sooner the better we get this committee up and running,” O’Keefe said.
Porter, who has been living on Tessier Place for several years, said she hadn’t heard about the committee, but she says it is a positive step.
“I think we really need ongoing consultations about the issues and certainly other neighbourhoods have similar things happening, it’s not just in one place,” she said.
“If you get the right people together who are concerned about the causes of crime as well as how to give relief to particular neighbourhoods that will be good, but I’d be looking for initiatives that also make landlords accountable for the actions of their tenants,” suggested Porter.
That was attempted in 2007 when then justice minister Tom Osborne passed the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act — designed to make neighbourhoods and communities safer.
However, he told The Telegram in May it has likely never been proclaimed law because of a change in priorities brought on by a cabinet shuffle at the time. Since then the act has been in limbo and never proclaimed.
It’s too bad says Porter, adding she might have been able to sleep with her windows open years ago.