Departments work together to address crime, blight in Oneida
ONEIDA — Officials say they have been working hard at cleaning up the community, one problem house at a time. One of the issues officials say the city has faced is the appearance of properties that have become havens for drug use and other criminal activity.
“At one of my first Common Council meetings as acting police chief, there were residents who had complaints about these problem properties,” Police Chief John Little said. “And one of the houses being complained about was 335 Stone St.”
Little said the Oneida Police Department started to target hot-spot areas in the city where drug use and crime were at their most prolific.
“I think we made 16 arrests out of 335 Stone St.,” Little recalled. “Drugs, warrants, and more. People were couch surfing and coming and going. It was disruptive to the neighbors, who saw criminal behavior.”
Through a three-pronged attack with the Codes Department, Fire Department, and Police Department, Little said the parcel was vacated for unsanitary conditions and structural issues. Little said they approached the landlord and told them it was becoming an issue and had the risk of a nuisance abatement issue being raised against it.
And while the property is addressed, the root of the problem still exists.
“It’s a struggle. If there’s criminal behavior going on at a property and you’re addressing it, the end result is that everyone living there either became homeless or went somewhere else,” Little said. “And some of those people moved on to 345 Stone St.”
The parcel at 345 Stone St. was recently vacated, and Oneida resident Janice Glynn, the controller of the property, could only watch as it changed in character.
“My mother passed in February 2020 and at that time, my son was living upstairs with his wife and two children,” Glynn said. “And when my mother passed away, he asked if he could stay in her downstairs apartment so he could work, save money, and find a place of his own … but then COVID-19 hit.”
This made it nearly impossible for Glynn’s son to find a job as everything shut down and businesses cut back. Glynn said her son had a history of drug use going back a long way that only got worse during the lockdown.
On top of this, there was a moratorium on turning off water and power.
“I learned the drug use was getting intense, and the children were still living there,” Glynn said. “I had to call Child Protective Services. There were drugs and all sorts of strange people around my grandchildren.”
The children were taken away and put into a safe environment and Glynn had hoped this would change their minds about drug use — but if anything, it got worse.
“It became a free-for-all. Police were there all the time,” Glynn said. “People were living in the garage, people were living in the rooms upstairs, and it got to be known as a safe house in the area. There were episodes that needed Narcan use.”
Glynn had hoped that when the water was shut off, they’d leave the property. But they didn’t.
“I learned through my daughter that my son almost died of an overdose,” Glynn said. “The next day, I called Bob and said I wanted it cleared out. I didn’t want to see anyone die in there from drugs.”
Burnett said they had received complaints from neighbors in the past for 345 Stone St. and could get remedies for violations, but with Glynn stepping forward, they could do more.
“Janice filed a complaint with the Codes Department that there was no water and it was unsanitary,” Codes Enforcement Director Bob Burnett said. “That gave us the right to inspect. Her complaints were accurate, and it gave us reason to vacate the property.”
With the property vacated, the people who once lived there and used it as a safe harbor dispersed.
“When certain individuals were struggling with being on the wrong side of the law, they’d gather. And this goes into societal issues,” Little said. “The job of the police, fire, codes, inspection, social services, and non-profits is to help people, and there’s a push to help people get out of the challenges they face. But the reality is that there are some people who engage in criminal behavior that don’t want help.”
Fortunately, that’s not always the case.
“They helped get my son out of there,” Glynn said. “I couldn’t just say ‘You need to get out of there.’ We needed some authority behind it. He’s doing better now.”
“The house was creating blight in the neighborhood and by partnering up with the owner, the Codes Department has helped reduce that blight,” Burnett said. “And I am privileged in, hopefully, helping Janice’s son by getting him out of this environment.”
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