Mixed messages from the East End

April 03, 2016 from the Local newspaper The Gleaner

By Beth Smith of The Gleaner

Whether lifelong residents or more recent inhabitants, East Enders agree there is plenty to be proud of in their part of Henderson.

The East End boasts one of the best schools in the state — South Heights Elementary. There are iconic businesses, including Metzger’s Tavern, Days Garden Center, T&T Drug Store and Thomason’s Barbecue, to name a few.

There are well-established churches, and among many, especially the older residents, a deep sense of loyalty to the area where they’ve put down roots.

“The East End, historically, is doing very well coexisting as a community and thriving with businesses,” said Dixie Gettings, a native of the East End. “That’s one reason I want to stay here. I have relationships with Tom’s Market and T&T Drug Store. We are clannish, and we kind of keep to ourselves. It’s a good place to be. We have a lot of churches. There’s a lot of positives. We have the bus line. We are within walking distance of a lot of things.”

“South Heights Elementary School is a jewel, not only for me, but for my son,” Gettings said. “He’s rented property and purchased property (in the East End) primarily because he wanted his boys to go to South Heights. They are one of the highest scoring schools in the state. We have one grandchild who has special needs, and they were wonderful for him. For parents, you can’t beat that school.”

However, according to some residents, there is also a darker side to the East End.

Growing gang activity, illegal drug trade, an increasingly transient populace and disinterested landlords are polluting the East End with fear, according to some.

Several East End residents spoke to The Gleaner but refused to do so on the record out of fear.

They told stories of vandalized cars, shootings and other violence.

Gettings said that while she feels safe living in the East End and loves the community, she admits there are problems.

“I was born and raised in the East End. (After getting married) we could’ve chosen to live elsewhere, but we’ve chosen to live here and have been here 40 years,” she said.

“I’m not saying (the issues) shouldn’t be addressed, but I feel safe where I live,” Gettings said. “I just want people to have a feel for how things are. East End is a strange subculture, and it’s in transition. When we moved in, it was very blue collar and everyone owned their own homes. Now there’s a lot of rental property.”

One East End resident said she doesn’t like to let her children play outside.

“It wasn’t like that when we moved in,” she said. “We moved into the East End seven years ago, and we had the best neighbors. A lot of the property has changed from homeownership to rental property, and I think when there are transient groups, it’s hard to make connections.”

“Burglaries are common on our street,” she said. “We don’t want people to not want to move here, but if you can’t let your kids play outside, then why would you come?”

Michael Walker, an East End resident and an owner of rental property there, said some of the responsibility for the issues in the East End can be laid at the feet of landlords.

“Every time I put more and more money into (my) houses, then slumlords move in,” he said.

“Landlords need to be held responsible. There are landlords who know their tenants sell drugs, but they won’t kick them out. (Some) landlords don’t care, and they don’t keep up the properties like they should,” he said. “Landlords need to be held accountable for what’s going on in their houses … I’m going to approach the Henderson City Commission about (passing) the good neighbor ordinance which holds landlords responsible for what goes on on their property. Evansville and Chandler, Indiana, have it.”

“I think homeownership would change the atmosphere of the East End,” he said. “Because if people invest in property, they are likely to keep it up.”

The occupants have a responsibility for maintaining the property, Walker said, adding that lack of finances isn’t an excuse for homes looking unkempt.

“Being poor has nothing to do with having trash everywhere,” he said. “Because it costs nothing to walk outside and pick up paper and trash.”

Other East End residents who spoke to The Gleaner agreed that landlords should be required to clean and maintain their properties.

“There’s a lot of abandoned houses,” one resident said. “And if you have abandoned buildings, kids are going to congregate there. If the landlord isn’t going to fix it up, then he/she should knock it down. But to have a lot of empty structures, the kids go there. It starts small and becomes an epidemic.”

“It concerns me that some landlords don’t do what they are supposed to do,” Gettings said. “Each landlord isn’t held to the same accountability. My children have gotten tickets for not mowing their grass or for flat tires (on a vehicle), but some landlords don’t have to do anything about their abandoned buildings.”

Both Gettings and Walker, as well as other residents, said there needs to be a greater police presence in the neighborhood.

“The city needs to put more police manpower in the East End,” Walker said.

Gettings said she has filled out citizen watch cards and put them in the police tip boxes at T&T Drug Store, but no one has responded.

“I believe in authority, and I’m not pleased with responses from police. There are those citizen watch cards, and I’ve filled out 10 of those. I even took some to the police department. I feel they don’t have adequate follow-through. I’m not blaming the police for the problem, but the follow-through,” she said.

“I’m not totally blaming the police or the landlords” for the issues in the East End, Gettings said. “There is a perfect storm of events.”

Henderson Police Chief Chip Stauffer said he understands some residents’ desire to see a larger police force and more police presence.

“Their concerns are legitimate, and I understand that they’d like to see a larger presence,” he said. “We are in the process of working on a program where bike officers will be patrolling in the area. But with a limited number of officers, it’s difficult to not only respond to calls, but to have a presence. The schools are also asking for a police presence. With limited staffing, it’s hard to be everywhere people say we need to be. We are working on addressing this, but I have to make decisions on managing the resources that we have.”

As for the citizen watch cards, Stauffer said, “The program was started several years ago. I wasn’t aware there was a tip box at T&T, but now that I know, we will make an effort to pick them up.”

In December 2014, a teen was beaten in the East End by someone wielding a baseball bat. According to police, the victim of that assault was walking with a friend who identifies with one of the groups at odds with each other.

One resident said the assault took place near her home.

“I think my biggest thing is how close those in warring groups — I don’t want to say gangs — live to my home,” she said.

“It boils down to, if everybody keeps the same mind set, nothing is ever going to change,” Walker said.

“This whole deal is based on everybody. Everybody has to pull together. It can start with being that good neighbor, beef up the police, and the codes department needs to do their job. Things have to change or it’s not going to be just in the East End. It’s going to bleed out.”

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