Saturday, August 25, 2007

Quality of Life on Block 832

My block in the middle of Plainfield is full of apartment buildings. There is not a lot of hanging-over-the-fence neighborly chitchat. Still, some of us were able to join forces to address a couple of quality of life issues recently.

One was the emergence of a sort of camp in a secluded section of the block. A group of men started gathering to hang out, eat and drink. They created a big mess of trash, cast-off clothes and debris and frightened at least one neighbor with their loud commotion just behind her rear yard fence.

The land where they gathered belongs to Connelly Properties and after we documented the problem and asked for help, the site was cleaned up and the men stopped hanging out there.

Of course, the problem didn’t go away from Block 832. The group just became more entrenched at Municipal Lot 7, which had become quiet after another bunch of drug and alcohol users moved away. Every day we began seeing men sitting on the curb at the far end of the lot. They started drinking as early as 10 a.m. and kept it up all day.

On Thursday, the group left food containers and beer cans all over their new gathering place. On Friday, not two or three, but seven men returned to regale themselves at the same spot.

We don’t know why this group has so much time on their hands or why they have to eat and drink on public property. But because students, young mothers and children and the general population should be able to walk through Lot 7 without encountering a bunch of drunken men, we view it as a quality of life issue. The lot is also used by at least two churches and visitors from out of town take away an image of Plainfield as a place where open-air intoxication on Sunday morning is no big deal.

After a few fleeting thoughts about the right to assemble and social injustice, we called the cops.

A patrol car was soon on the scene and the men were ordered to clean up the trash. They did so and quickly dispersed. Thanks to the Plainfield Police Division for responding to this quality of life concern and impressing on these men that their behavior is not going to be tolerated.

Councilman Harold Gibson has recently raised the question of how to reduce the number of alcoholic beverage licenses in the city. Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson has explained some of the problems, mainly a license holder’s right not to be arbitrarily deprived of its value. Some cities have limited single-can sales of beer or malt liquor in an effort to rein in public drinking. There are larger social issues involved here, including unemployment and homelessness or overcrowding that lead to these outdoor gatherings.

Meanwhile, thanks again to the police for taking the neighbors’ concerns seriously. We all appreciate it.

--Bernice Paglia


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