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Barclay sees signs of hope; Neighbors rebuilding troubled area with small victories


Charlene Ames, a resident of 22nd Street, never thought she would be walking the former drug corners of Greenmount Avenue while seeing a future blessed with hope and neighborhood confidence.

But today, Ames and a small band of neighbors are 10 months into a quiet start at rebuilding a collapsed neighborhood's health. These devoted and optimistic residents say they can observe small hints at progress -- such as a cleared and cleaned lot and increasing attendance at monthly jobs fairs.

"If I had my way, Greenmount Avenue would be rebuilt with stores for this neighborhood," said Ames, a Defense Department systems administrator who has lived on East 22nd Street for 14 years. She is president of the East Baltimore-Midway-Barclay Community Development Corp., one of several groups pulling for beleaguered Barclay residents.

Last spring and summer, she went door to door, ringing 22nd Street bells and asking her neighbors to come outside and -- for starters -- clean up the trash. Twice a month, she and others run a Saturday event that divides along gender lines -- the men sweep the streets and alleys while the women prepare a community breakfast.

"It's a lot of fun and it works," Ames said.

This is the same neighborhood that police swept through in 1994 to clean up flagrant street-corner drug sales along Greenmount Avenue, the Barclay neighborhood's best-known street.

The neighborhood is bounded by 25th Street on the north, North Avenue on the south, Greenmount on the east and an alley named Hargrove Street on the west. It is home to about 3,000 residents, most of whom live in two- and three-story rowhouses. Nearly every block has at least one vacant house. Some sections have larger pockets of abandonment.

Housing groups, such as St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center on 25th Street, have rehabilitated pockets of the community. Other parts, such as stretches of Barclay Street, appear to be falling away.

"The police did conduct a sweep, but there was no organizing to restore a sense of neighborhood," said Odette Ramos, an official of the Greater Homewood Community Corp., a North Baltimore group that's in its 10th month of sending trained community organizers into the neighborhood.

Residents are proud of small victories -- such as cleaning a vacant lot at Barclay and Camp streets. There, behind rowhouses and garages, residents note that the trash is not the rat-infested horror it was before a concerted neighborhood cleanup Oct. 31.

Nevertheless, Camp Street garage walls carry grim spray-paint epitaphs of the drug culture: "Darlene a.k.a. Lil' Dee RIP" and "Murder of 24th."

"While we do have people who are committed, who are clean living, there's still a lot of drug addiction. The drug gangs -- the New York Boys -- may have been pushed out, but their after effects remain. People-wise, I would say this neighborhood is at its lowest ebb," said Barclay resident Connie Ross. "I'd like to see our churches work harder here. There is a spiritual side that's missing here."

Ross attends weekly meetings of the Barclay Leadership Council, a group that has no money. It was created last spring when residents started holding Wednesday morning meetings at Dallas Nicholas Elementary School at 20th Street and Guilford Avenue.

"It's a slow process," said Virginia Bishop, a 23 1/2 Street resident who has lived in the neighborhood for many years. "We still need more people to come out to the meetings. The majority have excuses why they don't show up."

Barclay residents may shun these weekly sessions, but they did show up in encouraging numbers when employers came recruiting several weeks ago at an Employment Connection Fair. The council members say that a measure of self-esteem returned to the neighborhood when 150 people attended.

"We'll be holding substance-abuse workshops and classes in good-parenting skills," said community organizer Ramos. "And the cleanups will continue in April. Still, we could use a lot more participation."

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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