Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 2, 1995

On The United Way: CPHA Detoxes the Streets

Mike Field
Staff Writer

     Before the neighbors got themselves organized, the
Boyd-Booth Community in Baltimore's west side was the scene of
open-air drug markets and violent crime of all sorts, including
drive-by shootings. Community members wanted the drug dealers
out, but were uncertain how to go about removing them. 

     The drug dealers, after all, were armed, and not a few of
them seemed willing to shoot first and ask questions later. The
idea that unarmed citizens could send the dealers packing seemed

     Preposterous, that is, until the Citizens Planning and
Housing Association--a Baltimore-based United Way-funded
nonprofit group--joined forces with the Boyd-Booth Concerned
Citizens to solve the problem. 

     "The police initiated some raids that brought a slight
reduction in drug activity," said CPHA's Kevin Jordan, who helped
organize and coordinate the community response to the drug
infestation. "But police activity only temporarily displaces the
drug dealing. It takes sustained community response to eliminate
it entirely."

     Working through CPHA's "Community Over Drugs" program,
Jordan helped community leaders devise an anti-drug strategy
meant to discourage the dealers from returning to their familiar
turf. "We did a large march with the mayor to get more members of
the community involved," Jordan said. "Then community leaders sat
down and came up with specific proposals to make it physically
more difficult to deal drugs in the neighborhood."

     Using the concept of "defensible space," the community
convinced the city to add additional lighting and install fencing
across certain alleys to make a quick escape more difficult. They
boarded up abandoned buildings, conducted neighborhood
beautification projects and held a series of public events to get
neighbors out from behind closed doors--including, even, a
community cookout held on a street corner notorious for drug

     "If you tell people 'We're going after the drug dealers,'
they get scared, and for good reason," Jordan said. "But if you
organize community events around other activities and you bring a
lot of people out, then the dealers start to get scared. You
don't have to be confrontational to be successful."

     This comprehensive approach can be highly effective if the
experience of the Boyd-Booth neighborhood is any indication.
"There has been a noticeable improvement in the neighborhood,"
said Jordan of the organizing efforts led by CPHA. 

     "Noticeable improvement" is in fact something of an
understatement. Police statistics indicate just how successful a
community-based response can be. According to recent figures
released by the Baltimore City Police, violent crime in
Boyd-Booth decreased by 85 percent during the first four months
of 1995, compared with the same period three years earlier. The
efforts in the Boyd-Booth community have helped a neighborhood
regain control of its own streets and take charge of its own

     Now in its 53rd year, CPHA was founded during the Second
World War as a citizens advocacy group fighting for improved
housing conditions among Baltimore's poor. "People tend to forget
that at that time there were extensive slums in Baltimore, many
with conditions far worse than you find today," said CPHA
spokeswoman Eileen O'Brien. "CPHA was founded on the premise that
the only way to achieve anything lasting is through cooperative
citizen action. That was our founding philosophy, and it remains
our philosophy to this day."

     A "lean, mean" membership organization with many volunteers
and only a few full-time paid staff members, CPHA helps organize
communities to help themselves, rather than providing direct
services. Over the years, the group has been responsible for a
number of important initiatives that have profoundly changed the
urban landscape in Baltimore. 

     CPHA members wrote the city's first housing code, helped
make curbside recycling a reality, led the fight to remove
tobacco and alcohol billboards from inner city neighborhoods and
published several classic community self-help manuals such as The
Neighborhood Self-Help Handbook, The Take This School and Love It
Manual and The Elementary School Report Card.

     "We've never been a 'do for,' we've always been a 'do with'
organization, which is why I think we fit in so well with the
United Way campaign," O'Brien said. "Funds provided by the United
Way Campaign of Central Maryland are an important source of
support for us. The United Way helps us in our efforts to help
communities help themselves."

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