North Phoenix residents blame light rail for uptick in crime

Posted at 6:30 PM, Sep 27, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-27 21:30:11-04

The light rail has become a scapegoat for problems in several North 19th Avenue neighborhoods.

Those living along the light rail corridor between Montebello and Dunlap streets say they are seeing an increase in the number of break-ins and vandalism incidents in the area.

Many say the problems started when the light rail construction began.  

The promise of growth and development along the corridor is now over-shadowed by unwanted guests along the rail lines. Victims of break-ins have reached out to ABC 15 News saying they believe the homeless and transients are responsible for the increase in crime.

"We're seeing a lot of homeless people walking up and down streets and alleys, and taking metal out of our backyards and bicycles to ride around on," said Angie Gulick, a long time resident of the area.

Gulick says several items had been stolen from her backyard in the last few months.

"It makes us scared and violated," she added.

Another woman, who asked us not to reveal her name, said she had also noticed more graffiti and trash.

"Mailboxes are knocked over, people are just leaving their stuff around," the unidentified woman said.

A resident in the Royal Palm neighborhood reached out to ABC 15 saying his car had been stolen right from his driveway. He has also been targeted by an attempt break-in, and had packages ripped open and the contents stolen on his property.

Two of his dogs were also attacked during the break-in.  He added that since these incidents, he had locked up his property "like a fortress" and blocked off the doggie door.

Other residents in the area echoed these complaints but were urged to not talk to the media because it may cast the community in a negative light.

To combat the crimes, neighborhood watch programs and police bike patrols had increased in recent months.  

Gulick says her neighbors kept an eye on each other and call a crime stoppers hotline if they noticed anyone peering into backyards or saw anything suspicious.

ABC 15 News reached out to City of Phoenix officials to see if they were doing anything about these concerns. Riann Balch, a social worker with the Human Services division said the light rail was not the issue, it was just a coincidence that the number of break-in's increased with the grand opening of the light rail in the area.

Balch said the problem was stemming from an explosion in the aging homeless population in Phoenix.

The most recent homeless count showed an increase of 30% in the number of people living on the streets. Many of the homeless were victims of substance abuse and mental illness and were not able to access shelters.  

Balch says the city was sending outreach teams into the area on a weekly basis, trying to get people help. Private property owners had given the city the right to arrest those who were trespassing.

The neighborhood's Open Door Fellowship Church was working closely with the city to address these issues. Shannon McBride, the Pastor of Community and Fellowship said the incidents were bringing the community together.

"We kept hearing about the problems at different meetings.  Business and neighborhood groups.  There was a lot of frustration and we all agree we want this to be a safe, walkable destination."

One positive thing that had come out of the incidents, according to McBride, was a spirit of community.

"Now we're all at the same table. We are talking about the issue together.  The city is involved and we have a very responsive local government," said McBride.

The group planned to unveil a new brand for the 3.5 mile area between Montebello and Dunlap, and 15th Avenue and 23rd Avenue called 10 North.  The grand opening was set to take place on October 7.

"Tell everyone that great stuff is coming up, McBride said."You'll see banners, logos, and stickers on cars," 

The group was also organizing community job fairs, a community garden and feeding the homeless at the church.

Residents said they remained hopeful, but for now were locking up their doors, windows, installing cameras, and hoping to see change.