You can’t quite call it “God’s Little Acre,” but the tiny strip of Columbus Avenue South between 18th Street and Franklin Avenue is something of a heavenly oasis in the hellish landscape that has Chicago and Franklin at the hub, a clearing house of crack peddling and prostitution. Not that the occasional unsavory element doesn’t drift over. Nothing, though, like the nonstop traffic thriving a block over at the intersection as well as stretching up and down Franklin from Portland to Bloomington Avenues. Or like the adjacent 2100 block of Elliot Avenue, where the back yard at two of the buildings is easily accessible, with nooks between garages that supply a perfect place to duck in and fire up a pipe, then move on, and where neighborhood hookers do business. Or like 10th Street, a block over, a through street where dealers have been known to drive by and wait for the wholesaler in order to re-up.
How has the two-block stretch on Columbus avoided the fate that’s befallen neighboring blocks?
Columbus is bordered on one end by Peavey Park and on the other by the freeway, Route 94. So, it’s cut off from through traffic. On one side of the street, house after house is surrounded by fencing and a few have loudly barking dogs in the yard. Not exactly conducive to sneaking on the property and then making a quick, quiet getaway. The other side of the street is a still less attractive option for getting up to no good. The east corner of Columbus and Franklin is a large, wide-open space where you can’t even stop to take a quick leak without being observed: It’s the back parking lot of a little strip mall where activity is steady enough to keep pigeons and swallows shooed away, doing their hunting for bread and pecking at crumbs on the other sidewalk. You’ve got delivery trucks coming and going. Workers standing at the back door of their shop, taking a cigarette break, shooting the breeze, catching a breath of fresh air, what have you. Right next to it, there’s the parking lot for, of all places, ironically enough, Resource, Inc., for more than a half-century helping the chemically dependent (and other mentally infirm individuals) get their act together. Next is the fenced off courtyard at the back of an apartment building. After that, another irony, the back lot of the Hennepin County Detox Center and Social Services, as well as a few other entities at 1800 Chicago Avenue. Then, another fenced off apartment building. At each corner of Columbus and 18th sits sober housing for Resource, Inc. clients.
However, whether that housing is a help or a hindrance is debatable.
Cecil Smith, chair of the Ventura Village Crime and Safety Committee, interviewed for Southside Pride article “The Mess At Chicago and Franklin” in 2012, complained, “We have a concentration of supportive housing [for chemical dependency]. That isn’t a neighborhood or even a city issue. That is federal and state policy that has led to that circumstance. There’ve been protests by Ventura Village over that. There’s a city ordinance that says you cannot add supportive housing within a quarter of a mile of 200 beds of [already existing] supportive housing. [Agencies] keep applying for variances on a regular basis.”
And Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration has documented that nearly 84% of crack users relapse.
Before rushing to a snap judgement, consider a different point of view from Dan Cain, president of RS Eden, since 1971 providing support for drug addicts and alcoholics, including housing. “It really depends on how a place is run,” Cain said in an email. “I believe all of our neighbors would speak highly of us. But I’ve seen bad ones too. When we opened Alliance Apartments, [it] was about the same time the Minneapolis Police Department instituted Code 4. Crime in the neighborhood went down 16%. Crime on the Alliance block went down 30% (MPD numbers, not mine). I think you can over concentrate things. But a halfway house or sober living facility is generally just an accountable, supportive, supervised environment for people who would otherwise be living in the same neighborhoods unaccountable, unsupported and unsupervised.”
Joanne Kosciolek, Resource, Inc. vice president of development and communications, in a telephone interview states, “[We have] hundreds of people who come in and out of our doors every day. They are coming into our building to make positive changes in their lives. The changes they are making extend out onto Columbus Avenue, and into the broader community. Resource believes that everyone should be given opportunities to discover their potential, and achieve their dreams. We are proud to add to the positive difference happening on our block.”
From the appearance of things, the institution certainly doesn’t seem to be hurting things. Mornings and afternoons, daily, the recovering chemically dependent stroll to and from Resource, for groups, meetings or whatever they do in there to stay on the straight and narrow, dressed well, looking good—unlike those still trapped in the disease, roaming around solely or in packs, mobile eyesores who scare the living hell out of people—Mothers won’t take their kids to the park … Pedestrians cross the street to avoid being pestered for a handout. … Cars stopped at the light check their locks.
You can stand on the south end of Columbus Avenue at Franklin and watch the mess crackheads and crack peddlers continue to make of Chicago and Franklin. Standing at the north end, at the freeway, it’s an oasis. You’d never know you’re in the same city.