A blanket frames the broken porch window on the first floor of a Bedford
Street apartment building.
It's been this way for months.
Anna Montalvo, 25, says her window -
damaged by a BB-gun - was just one of the reasons she and her three children
moved out recently. There was also that little problem with "big ass rats" eating
the kids' cereal and the heat not working in the winter; so the warmth
from a stove had to suffice.
A similar heating problem caused a fire in a unit across from Montalvo's,
when curtains ignited. The view from 18-20 Bedford St. would never be confused
with that of a penthouse - an outhouse, maybe.
This week, the city finally cleaned up one of its most neglected, filthiest,
drug-riddled streets. The dozen or more sneakers that hung from electrical
wires - the cops say it's a indicator that drugs are sold on the block though
residents say it's more the reflection of mischievous kids - were removed.
The sofas, mattresses and appliances dumped on the sidewalks and on a vacant
lot were also hauled away. Trash that blocked street gutters was swept away.
An alternate-side-of-the street parking ordinance was re-enforced so the
street could be cleaned. Cars were towed. The L-shaped strip that is Bedford
Street, barely two-tenths of a mile long and peppered with brick multi-family
buildings, is back on line as a city-sanctioned street - for now.
Bedford is a story about a block - one of the poorest neighborhoods in
one of the poorest sections of one of the poorest cities in America - where
everyone gave up.
Tenants blame the landlords. Property managers blame the tenants. The city
didn't give a rat's damn.
"I think they should just close this street off. It's a living hell
here," Montalvo said. "The kids are going to grow up and be what
they see here. That's why I took my kids out of here because they
were already starting to act like, you know, little ghetto kids. ...No."
The Albany Avenue entrance to Bedford
Street is framed by a package store on one side and the former Frontline
Café night club, which the federal
government recently busted for being part of a international drug
ring, on the other.
Hence, it's not unusual to see people on the street drinking hooch, collecting
soda cans in a shopping carriage, gettin' high, dealing drugs, and engaging
in shootouts. That's reality. And why it was so easy to write off Bedford
Yet, you also see young folks smiling while riding their bicycles or playing
at the makeshift hoop. That's reality too. Impressionable kids growing up
in deplorable conditions. They're worth fighting for.
I blasted City Hall last week for abdicating its leadership in maintaining
Bedford Street, particularly at a time when Hartford is trying to market
itself as a city in turnaround mode.
It's only appropriate this week to recognize city efforts - superficial
as they may be - for demonstrating what can happen when resources are marshaled
for a common purpose.
"I think it's for show," says
Ivelisse Lugo, 19. She's the mother of two kids and believes she may be
expecting again. Her experience on Bedford echoed that of Montalvo's.
Rats, roaches, malfunctioning refrigerators and toilets.
"I've been here for 12 years," Lugo said. "It
makes me feel like they don't care. Why should I? ...Treat us like humans,
not like animals."
Property manager Yisroel Ross, who manages eight of the buildings there,
says bad tenants are to blame for Bedford's plight because they're irresponsible
and incorrigible. He says he is weeding out the hard heads.
"You wouldn't believe it, but we have a guy cleaning here every day," Ross
said. "When you come back the next morning, it looks like we didn't
even clean. Matter of fact, while the guy is cleaning, bags come
flying out the window."
John McGrane, the assistant director in the city's public works department,
says everyone bares responsibility for what became of Bedford.
"It shouldn't have been allowed to get to that point," he said. "It
should have been caught sooner."
Now, the police have organized a special "conditions
unit" - call
'em the "Blight Patrol" - to identify blemishes like broken windows
and graffiti that can transform a decent neighborhood into a crime
zone almost overnight. But the cops can't do it alone.
Gus Espinoza, who coordinates many of the city's clean-up efforts, says
it starts with enforcement. Cars must be towed for violating parking ordinances.
Property owners must be cited and fined for not keeping their lots clean.
The city hopes, cautiously, that the Bedford clean-up will stick.
For now, this eyesore is a sight for sore eyes.
Stan Simpson's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays. He can be heard
live today on WTIC NewsTalk 1080AM from 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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