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Massena neighbors defend their street, say village is singling them out

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MASSENA — Anna M. Deshane is tired of what she considers to be stereotypes used to describe her home and her neighborhood on Sycamore Street.

Ms. Deshane, 62, has lived in on Sycamore for almost four years. Lately, she has seen Mayor James F. Hidy and other officials focus on cleaning up her block.

She said the attention is unwanted for those who live there; she is afraid to tell people where she lives because of the negative stigma attached to Sycamore Street.

“They look at you like you’re a freak,” she said.

Describing their block as neighborly, Ms. Deshane and two neighbors, April L. Castle and Sherri L. Morris, sat on a front porch Friday morning, two days after Mr. Hidy held a meeting with village and St. Lawrence County officials to discuss strategies for eliminating blight and crime in Massena’s Grove neighborhood. The neighbors were concerned with what the village might do to “clean up” their street, as the mayor vowed to do, including sending in code enforcement officers to check on apartment buildings.

A peace decoration hung on Ms. Deshane’s door, as well as a sticker reading “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Ms. Deshane said theirs is a family-oriented neighborhood.

“If kids are running around, we watch the kids and make sure they don’t run off,” Ms. Deshane said. “They’re not our kids, but we’ll still watch them.”

They wonder why their particular block of Sycamore is viewed by the village as a benchmark for future revitalization.

“They treat us like we’re the Bronx,” Ms. Morris said.

The village will use building and criminal ordinances to turn around the neighborhood and hold landlords accountable, Mr. Hidy said. Village police have already increased their patrols in the neighborhood, he said. Code officers have been regularly checking up on Sycamore Street apartment buildings, according to Code Enforcement Officer Gregory C. Fregoe.

“We’re going to use the east end of Sycamore, moving forward, to address all the other issues in the village,” he said. “It’s going to be cleaned up.”

Ms. Deshane and her neighbors say they are unfairly being singled out.

“We don’t have a criminal record,” Ms. Morris said. Why is our name being crushed?”

“Do not judge a book by its cover,” Ms. Castle said.

All three say they are on disability insurance; Ms. Deshane suffers from fibromyalgia and Ms. Castle said she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety related to abuse from when she was younger. All said they do not have a criminal past; they know of others in the neighborhood who do but leave those people alone, they said.

Mr. Hidy has complained that the county is steering welfare recipients toward Massena. County Administrator Karen M. St. Hilaire said that is not the case. Ms. St. Hilaire, who attended last week’s meeting with Mr. Hidy and other county and village officials, said the solution to improving Massena’s troubled neighborhoods lies at the local level

Back on Sycamore Street between Woodlawn and Liberty Avenue, Ms. Morris said said crime on the block is often associated with people from other neighborhoods coming there, including the Bishop Boys, a Massena gang.

Once, a brawl erupted at Woodlawn and Sycamore, so the Sycamore neighbors joined in to help those they knew in the fight, Ms. Deshane said. She said she occasionally gets into fights like anyone else does.

“When one person from this block is involved, we’re all involved,” Ms. Deshane said.

“Nobody wants drama,” Ms. Castle said. “We all want to relax and live our lives happily.”

Ms. Deshane lives in a building owned by an out-of-town landlord. The women say he is doing his best to provide them with a good home and listen to their problems, and dropped off a turkey for each tenant earlier this week.

It shouldn’t matter whether people are on public assistance or not, Ms. Deshane said.

“Are we perfect? No,” she said. “Do we sometimes not pick up our home because we are sick? Yes.”

“We’re trying to keep it together,” Ms. Morris said.

There are plenty of other areas for the village to focus on, Ms. Morris said. “What about all of these other blocks that are trashed around here?” she asked.

A village resident recently approached the Board of Trustees with concern over conditions children and animals were living in on the block. Ms. Deshane said she worried the village might start taking some of the animals on the block away.

She owns two dogs, five or six cats and a bird. A few of the cats scurried about the front yard and porch Friday. She held back tears as she considered what would happen if animal control removed her pets.

“They make us get up to do what we need to do,” Ms. Deshane said.

She said she is disappointed with Mr. Hidy, who she said ignored her during a recent visit to Sycamore Street.

“He doesn’t want to be bothered by us,” she said.

Mr. Hidy said he did not mean to ignore Ms. Deshane during his visit. He said he was showing County Legislator Jonathan S. Putney the conditions on the block at the time.

The village’s future efforts on Sycamore are intended to help all of Massena, including the residents who live on that street, Mr. Hidy said.

“We’re not trying to stereotype,” he said. “We’re trying to put a neighborhood back together.”

Those living on Sycamore will have to play a role in its revitalization, too, Mr. Hidy said. He encouraged those living there to become civically active on the block and plant flowers or gardens.

“We have to have their input,” Mr. Hidy said. “They’ve got to have a vested interest in this as well.”

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