The afternoon of Oct. 6, a Saturday, Roger Hougland hopes 100 or more people will walk together through parts of Hamilton’s Lindenwald neighborhood, symbolically reclaiming the streets from drug dealers and other criminals who, he said, think nobody is watching them.
His organization, Take Back The Wald, wants to encourage people to sit out on their front porches again, and make a point of walking their neighborhood in future months on their own, so criminals — who don’t like to be seen — will stop hanging around.
The idea also is to let the criminals know that people of Hamilton’s largest neighborhood are watching, and care about the place where they live, he said.
The community walk was inspired by last summer’s effort by East End grandfather and pastor Dennis Matheny, who sat outside with a sign that read, “No Drugs Today,” because he was tired of drug dealing in his neighborhood.
“While we have a large part of our neighborhood that really is not that impacted, we have a part of our neighborhood that is extremely impacted,” Hougland said. “Let’s not be blind to the fact there’s a good possibility that over time, over the next 10 years, that can slowly start edging into different parts of Lindenwald.”
“Drug dealers feel like they can do business on our streets, and not have to worry about anybody causing them problems. Same thing with prostitution: They can walk around and conduct business, and it seems like they think that nobody cares. Our goal is to show we do care, we’re watching, and we’re not going to take it anymore,” he said.
Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit said he supports the effort, and police will be at the walk if their presence is wanted.
“The idea that neighbors and people are actively out in the neighborhood — walking, talking and engaged — is great,” Bucheit said, mentioning the positive example of Matheny’s No Drugs Today effort. “People who really care about the safety and betterment of their neighborhood are willing to get out there, roll their sleeves up, and hit the streets. I think it’s great.”
“I’d like to see other neighborhoods inspired by these efforts in Lindenwald,” Bucheit added.
Frank Downie, Leader of Lindenwald’s neighborhood organization, PROTOCOL (People Reaching Out To Others: Celebrating Our Lindenwald), said part of the neighborhood’s problem is that people these days spend more time inside than they used to.
“When I was growing up — I’m almost 70 years old — there was no air conditioning,” Downie said. “You were happier to be outside than you were to be in a hot house. It has a lot to do with what we call progress.”
People these days also hang out on their back decks or patios, rather than in the front yards, interacting with neighbors, as they did decades ago, he said.
“We’re no longer going to stay in our house and hide from you guys,” he said. “We’re going to sit on our front porch, and say hello to you, and let you know. Because that’s the last thing these people want: They don’t want to be seen.”
“We know they just don’t belong here, or they’re here for the wrong reason,” Downie said about the alleged criminals. “We would just like Lindenwald in general for people to feel more comfortable outside their homes, walking here, as opposed to people we think might be dealing in human trafficking, or drugs, or whatever.”
The walk will focus mainly on areas north of Laurel Avenue, where he said most of the problems are happening.
The Oct. 6 walk will start at 2 p.m., with people convening in front of Heaven Sent at 2269 Pleasant Ave., a business that offers a coffee shop, bakery, floral sales, Bible bookstore, wedding chapel and banquet hall. The event will end at Benninghofen Park, where there will be a small festival, with music, food trucks and a family movie in the evening.
“This walk is not going to cure all the ills in the community,” Hougland said. “But what it will do is create engagement. If we can get 100 people walking down the street with signs saying, ‘We Won’t Take It Anymore,’ ‘No Drugs, No Dealing in Our Neighborhood Today,’ you can’t miss a hundred people walking down the street, unified like that.”
Even if the criminals aren’t around at the time to see the walk, “They’re going to hear about it from their friends and family,” Hougland said.
At the most recent PROTOCOL meeting, 12 people from local social service agencies explained to residents “the psyche of the individuals, the homeless,” Downie said. “We hope to develop something from that, too, so we’re not just chasing people off streets, but we’re kind of working with the social agencies, too, to get these people into the programs they need to be in.”
“We don’t just want to move people on, we want to help them get the help they need, if we can,” Downie said.
Hougland said he believes the crime issues have several sources, including the tent community located near Hamilton Plaza, nearby motels with sketchy clientele and people visiting the area to buy drugs.
“We all know there have been issues in some parts of our area for a while now,” he said.
“I’ve told everybody: Invite your family, your friends,” Hougland said. “It’s your community, it can be anybody from Cincinnati to Fairfield, to West Chester, to other parts of Hamilton, because I think every community is being affected in some way by these kinds of things. We’ve got crime, we’ve got vandalism, we’ve got prostitution, we’ve got drug activities, so there’s a lot of areas that are impacted by this.”
Bucheit praised Lindenwald residents for their community engagement.
“Of the 17 neighborhoods in the city, there’s not a neighborhood that does it better than they do, as far as coming together, being engaged, and recognizing the benefits of working hand-in-hand with the police to make our community safer and better,” Bucheit said.