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Hope for troubled neighborhood

Among Bowdoin-Geneva leaders meeting with Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday were (from left): Eric Parish, Alred Hibbert, and Bob Scannell. Among Bowdoin-Geneva leaders meeting with Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday were (from left): Eric Parish, Alred Hibbert, and Bob Scannell. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
By Meghan E. Irons
Globe Staff / October 14, 2011

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Mayor Thomas M. Menino huddled with residents and community leaders yesterday and pledged to develop a comprehensive approach to tackle the entrenched poverty, joblessness, and violence that besiege the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood.

The mayor’s first attempt at a unified action plan in the troubled community is an acknowledgment by his administration that despite numerous efforts, the Bowdoin Street area has yet to turn a critical corner. The mayor said he hopes to model in Dorchester successful approaches taken in Mattapan and East Boston.

Since Jan. 1, 2010, police figures show that at least 25 people have been killed in the Bowdoin-Geneva area, including Jaivon Blake, 16, an eighth-grader who predicted his own death in a poem and was killed last month near his Geneva Avenue home.

Menino promised that in the next 10 days, his staff will create a neighborhood response team to address street-level violence and other issues. He also plans to add trauma counselors to the neighborhood and extend the Public Health Commission’s violence intervention and prevention program, which focuses resources on crime hot spots.

“If we show people results, they will help us,’’ Menino said after the meeting. “If we just give them rhetoric, then nothing will happen.’’

Menino would not give a price tag for the effort, saying he will redirect resources from various city departments, including police, public health, inspectional services, and parks and recreation.

He vowed easy fixes such as opening a closed park on Norton Street, repairing a basketball court at the Holland School, and cleaning up problem properties.

But his most difficult challenge, seen in the scant number of residents who met with him yesterday, is how to jolt neighbors from the demands and stresses of their daily lives to work consistently with city and community leaders.

Violence prevention intervention “is really about getting the community to feel like they have an essential role in building peace in the neighborhood,’’ said Barbara Ferrer, who heads the city’s public health commission. “It’s about creating a culture of peace.’’

Three weeks after Blake’s fatal shooting, Menino, in a crisp white shirt, sat in the middle of a long table at the Bowdoin Street Community Health Center and furiously wrote down notes while about 30 community advocates and service providers took turns listing their ideas for improving the neighborhood.

Residents participated in a separate private conversation with the mayor. They expressed their concerns about the closed park, the violence in their neighborhood, and their belief that none of the city’s strategies to keep the peace seems to be working, according to the mayor and two people who attended the meeting.

After one recent shooting, Janet Jones said, many residents on Norton Street were so fed-up they wanted to leave the area for good.

“It’s total destabilization,’’ Jones said after meeting with the mayor. “The reason nobody did anything about it was because it’s so expensive to move.’’

In the larger meeting, the mayor gathered with community leaders, including clergy, advocates, teens from the city’s clean sweep programs, and health care providers. Several representatives from the public safety program StreetSafe were asked to leave the meeting before Menino arrived because a mayoral aide said too many members of the group were present.

Adela Margules, executive director of the Bowdoin Street Health Center, urged the mayor to put special focus on early education programs and spoke of the heavy impact crime is having on the community, including on members of her staff

“We are dealing with victims of street violence and their perpetrators,’’ Margules said. “The traumatic effect - the numbing effect - that we are seeing on people on both sides of this is very scary. And continued support is critical.’’

Alice Gomes, a coordinator at the Family Nurturing Center of Massachusetts, asked the mayor for more assistance for families weighed down by the toll of crime.

“Our families are angry and frustrated,’’ she said. “It is hard for them to take care of their needs. When families are that stressed, it is hard for them to focus on their kids.’’

The consensus among the leaders called for better communication among the organizations, more job training and assistance, and a city staff member dedicated to linking teenagers and young adults with opportunities nearby.

Other ideas included establishing a crime watch, opening a satellite city center for homeless assistance and health services, and providing jobs for youths with criminal records. Some suggested selling vacant and foreclosed properties, and improving roadways, street lighting, and landscaping.

Police Captain Richard Sexton of District C-11 said his officers are frustrated by the lack of resident participation at police-organized neighborhood events, but that they are willing to work with the community to overcome barriers to communication.

Sexton said Bowdoin-Geneva has seen an 11 percent drop in overall crime this year, and last month police arrested 14 suspected drug dealers in a sweep of the area. He said that the neighborhood is plagued by groups feuding in a small swath of the city and that it will take a concerted effort to have an impact.

“We know who these groups are,’’ he said. “But they are always one step ahead of us.’’

Meghan Irons can be reached at mirons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.