AUSTIN (KXAN) — A neighborhood in East Austin notorious for crime, prostitution and drug-dealing, is looking a lot different nowadays. It’s partly due to an initiative launched two years ago, around the intersection of 12th and Chicon.
It’s the Austin Police Department’s Drug Market Intervention Program, and began in 2012. The program identifies dealers, arrests violent offenders and suspends cases for non-violent offenders, giving them a second chance. APD works with churches and nonprofits in their effort to clean up the neighborhood. Since it started crime has dropped.
According to the city’s website, the operation resulted in 100 narcotics arrests on 78 individuals, with the most dangerous and/or violent offenders immediately prosecuted. Thirty individuals and their “influentials” were targeted for social services intervention, providing them with community-based resources instead of prosecution.
For neighbors like Tanisha Thompson, the streets of 12th and Chicon are paved with memories.
“Fourteen years ago, I walked these same streets,” said Thompson. “I used to sit around on the walls, you know, I used to fight a lot, you know. I used to even do drugs.”
“When we moved down four years ago, there was regular drug dealing, drug usage, prostitution, violence on the streets,” said Beau Hamner with Mission Possible.
Hamner has watched street corner change as a result of the intervention program. His nonprofit, as well churches in the area have worked with APD in their efforts to clean up the neighborhood. Last year, Mission Possible had a call in event, where non-violent offenders could come and begin to try and turn their life around.
“Everybody seemed to leave there with that idea of not only do I have a second chance, but they really believed it,” said Hamner.
“Because transformation of this corner is not just the removal of people, that’s not how we want to define transformation by,” said Sherwynn Patton, community member and program director for Life Anew. “We want the transformation to be a transformation of the lives of people so that they don’t go to another side of town and do the same activity.”
However, with change also comes new problems. Some neighbors who have lived in the area for years can no longer afford it because of rising property values.
“We have the old community and the new community and they are very much at crossroads right now,” said Hamner.
“Now I’m concerned because the people who grew up here are no longer able to afford to be here,” said Patton. “People who have been stakeholders here, people who have been here and helped to raise up this community. They’ve had to move to suburbs and other places, other cities.”
While the effort brings new challenges, neighbors like Thompson believe things have gotten better for the streets and its people.
“Change can happen,” she says. “But you’ve got to want it.”
Thompson has been clean from marijuana for several years now, and she is also very active in her church. She says because of her change, it has made her a better mom.