Moving On

Continual crime, aging apartments and new activism collide as the fight for Fondren Southwest's soul rages onward

Myers says that, unlike Hurst's groups, Southwest Houston 2000 takes a more "inclusive" effort toward neighborhood improvement. He says the group gives a voice to everyone in Fondren Southwest. Myers wouldn't comment about crime in apartment complexes. What he would say is, "Are things better? Yes. Can things get better? Yes. Are we all trying to make things better? Yes."

According to Myers's second-year "Message From the President," the coalition accomplished many great things. The organization donated two large potted ficus trees to Jenard Gross Elementary School, sponsored the "second annual Realtors' luncheon for 100 area Realtors," sent a letter asking the Houston Symphony to perform at a park, drove an HISD car in a parade -- and issued 22 press releases detailing these accomplishments. More recently, members held their first volunteer awards banquet. As Myers proudly declared in his message, Southwest Houston 2000 was the only area organization to be honored at the banquet.

The organization also has more serious endeavors such as holding Fun Day in the Park and trying to expand the HPD's Blue Star program to train managers how to reduce crime.

As she began to relocate, West says, she felt bad for those left behind.
Troy Fields
As she began to relocate, West says, she felt bad for those left behind.

Although Southwest Houston 2000 and Hurst's groups are working toward the same goal, they don't work together.

"Everything we do, they're against," she says. "Those people don't have a clue to what's going on."

Police serve as the link between Hurst's groups, Southwest Houston 2000 and the property managers. Over the summer, Lieutenant Greg Fremin, the acting supervisor of the Fondren station, met with more community leaders in his office than he had in 19 years on the force. He credits that involvement for turning the small storefront into a full-fledged patrol subdivision in 1998.

He's grateful for the input, but he's also frank about the department's limitations.

"They start looking to us to help stop the problem, but there's only so much we can do," he says. Attracting responsible owners and managers to the area would do so much more.

He remembers how bad the apartment-saturated Greenspoint area was when he worked that beat in the early '80s. He says he recently drove through his old patrol and barely recognized the place -- new apartment owners sunk millions into cleaning the blighted area and hiring reputable managers. Greenspoint had pulled a 180.

Fondren Southwest hasn't caught up, and he pins a lot of that on economics. Apartments continued $99 move-in specials and rush to rent to virtually anyone means the police will always be busy.

Crime statistics for Fondren Southwest show an overall reduction from ten years ago. However, sexual assault, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary and auto theft all increased from 2000 to 2001. Sex offenses have never dropped below the 82 arrests of 1991. Last year, the 120 reported sexual offenses were the second-highest recorded in that category in ten years.

Fremin says the recent increases in crime may reflect more residents' post-9/11 willingness to report crime rather than a true hike. Yet, like every other substation in the city, the 150-officer Fondren outpost is understaffed, Fremin says. But the upgrade from storefront status at least means having a gang unit of its own.

The sergeant and seven officers of the Fondren gang unit often have to try to crack down on apartment gangs without help from managers. Fremin says that is sometimes because managers have been threatened.

Adrian Garcia, the mayor's anti-gang office director, credits successes to federally funded programs targeting the Fondren Southwest section loosely known as the Gulfton Ghetto. He concedes the area still has a gang presence.

"I would like to think that gangs could be eradicated, but I would be lying," he says.

His office looked at gang hotspots throughout the city and targeted the Gulfton area, a roughly three-square mile tract packed with 70,000 people, many of them recently arrived immigrants from all over the world. Garcia calls it "somewhat of an Ellis Island."

Officials implemented the Weed and Seed project. Like the name suggests, it tries to replace criminal activity with positive, community-oriented programs. These include a program called United Minds, a leadership program for teens, which Garcia says builds self-respect. One of their field trips was a trip to the city morgue, where at-risk youth got a close-up view of the effects of gang violence.

The office also targeted the gang-infested Los Americas apartment complex, using Weed and Seed money to build an elementary school on the property. Garcia says Los Americas is now a model complex. Program funds also helped build the Gulfton Community Learning Center, which offers free computer training. There's a computer lab at a local park, an English as a Second Language workshop and a domestic violence outreach unit. In five years, the seed program pumped $800,000 into the former Gulfton Ghetto.

He says these advances, accomplished without "heavy-handed police tactics," restored a sense of safety and community to an area that "was never engineered for family life."

Now, he says, "You'll see life going on."

Penciled on a wall is the stark message: "Demons get out of this and these apt. All of them in the blood of Jesus." The warning waits just outside an abandoned apartment in the condemned Southwest Gardens complex. It's not clear if the demons ever left the West Airport Road complex, but the tenants did. The city forced them out in August, two months after a fire gutted nine units and years after owners failed to clean up dangerous conditions.

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