RENEE ORDWAY

Bangor drug problem makes residents feel like ‘hostages’ in their own homes

Posted Oct. 05, 2012, at 7:18 p.m.
Renee Ordway
Renee Ordway

A few weeks ago a young woman in the late stages of pregnancy lay writhing in the middle of Webster Avenue North during a weekday afternoon.

Neighbors say she was flipping out on bath salts and incoherent and combative.

A few nights ago, on the same street, a Webster Avenue North resident peeked out her window as a seemingly delusional man stood a few feet from her front window angrily yelling obscenities at her house.

The mother of two routinely finds used syringes in her yard.

She won’t allow her daughter to walk the short distance to the end of the street by herself.

“And she’s old enough that she should be able to do that,” the neighbor said this week during a phone conversation. “Our neighborhood — our nice, family neighborhood — no longer feels safe. We are hostages in our own home.”

We talked just a couple of nights after she and another neighbor spoke before the Bangor City Council’s economic and development committee, which is considering a proposed ordinance that could hold property owners responsible for ongoing disruptive behavior at the property.

She didn’t want to be identified at the meeting and she doesn’t want me to use her name now because she fears for her safety or that of her children.

Webster Avenue North is a small dead-end street bordered by Hammond Street on one end and a pathway to Sawyer Arena and Hayford Park on the other. It consists primarily of middle-class homes, but the owners of those homes share their neighborhood with the tenants of Bangor Efficiency Apartments, a licensed rooming and lodging facility, mostly used by those looking for temporary housing.

The motel-like building runs parallel to Webster Avenue North, putting it in the backyard of the residents on that side of the street. The complex also consists of two apartment buildings that serve as an annex, and they are both located on Webster Avenue North.

The woman moved her family to Bangor seven years ago from the town she grew up in in southern New Hampshire, she said.

“We came purposely to Bangor. My brother moved to Hampden and we came up here all the time to spend weekends and we fell in love with this city. We made a pointed decision as a family that this is where we wanted to move,” she said.

The first three years she fell in love with the city and her tiny neighborhood, despite the occasional disruption from the efficiency apartments.

“We got accustomed to the police coming and breaking up a loud party or a fight in one of the rooms. We could live with that. It seemed confined,” she said.

But in 2008 a woman was shot during a drug deal gone bad at the complex. During that one year police were called to the building 63 times.

Neighbors met with the building’s owner, who they said seemed sympathetic to their plight and who posted neighborhood watch signs along the street.

But neighbors say the behavior of the buildings’ tenants has only worsened and left them fearful to venture outside nearly any time of day.

“I’ll tell you what,” the woman said this week, “The only thing those neighborhood watch signs are good for would be to hide behind when the shooting starts.”

“I don’t care what they do in those rooms behind those doors. They want to take drugs and do that to themselves, go to town. But this has spilled out into our whole neighborhood and we are a nice neighborhood and it’s changed the way we live here. The police are great and very responsive, but there is only so much they can do. We need this ordinance so that property owners take some responsibility here,” she said.

Similar concerns were raised last week at an organizational meeting of an east side neighborhood watch program, where some neighbors said absentee landlords do nothing to combat the drug dealing and criminal behavior of their tenants.

The ordinance being considered by the city could hold property owners responsible when police are called to the property too many times.

One proposal calls for landlords to be fined from $500 to $1,000; another would open the property up to mandatory inspections by city officials.

Similar ordinances have been passed in Biddeford and South Portland.

One Bangor resident emailed me last week suggesting that some of the landlords might be more willing to take responsibility for their property if the landlord’s name was listed as the owner each time the property’s address ended up in police beat.

He just might have a point and it might be more effective than a fine, since some — if not many — of the apartment buildings in question are owned by people who consider themselves upstanding and responsible members of our community and who might be embarrassed by such repeated press coverage.

If indeed they are upstanding and responsible members of the community, then it is most certainly time for them to come forward and work with the city, the police and, most important, the neighbors, like those on Webster Avenue North.

There are currently four neighborhood watch programs in Bangor — three that have been established within the past several months.

Nearly everyone recognizes that with the changes which have occurred in Bangor — drug-driven changes — it’s going to take commitment and resolve by many to ensure that we as a community don’t lose the city that drew that southern New Hampshire family here seven years ago.

The landlords and property owners need to step up and be part of that process.

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