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Homewood residents work to take back their neighborhood

| Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 8:41 p.m.
Members of the Save Race Street Committee including (from left,) Clarence Swindle, Reverend Terry Fluker, Elwin Green, and Dorothy White-Sparrow, along with Diva, Reverend Fluker's dog, have taken the lead for the last four years to clean up Race Street in Homewood. Photographed here, Saturday, November 3rd, 2012, in one of several vacant lots they have turned into green spaces, the group was hosting a celebration on Saturday afternoon. Keith Hodan | Tribune-Review

When Terry Fluker was away from home at work, dealers sold drugs from his front porch, he said.

“I did not want them to hang out on my porch and sell drugs when I was not at home. Who would? It was incredible,” said Fluker, 52, a resident of Race Street in Homewood.

After a double homicide near Fluker's house, enough became enough four years ago for him and his neighbors who reside on a four-block stretch between Bruston and North Lang avenues.

They decided to clean and beautify Race Street and formed a committee to do it.

Since then, trees and raised flower beds replaced weed-infested vacant lots and broken glass. Crime on the street has decreased 40 percent over the past five years as a result of special police details, block watches and captains, according to Pittsburgh police.

Now, “this is a family-oriented street. There are lots of older people who live here. We take pride in what has happened,” Fluker said.

Life on the street has improved so much that on Saturday, the Save Race Street Committee held a dinner at Diverse Banquet Hall on Kelly Street to celebrate while looking forward to making more improvements.

“Five years ago, this was one of the hottest spots in the city in terms of shootings,” said Elwin Green, 60, a Race Street resident and head of the Save Race Street Committee. “We wanted to combat crime blight, and what's happened with this street could be a model for other streets and neighborhoods.”

Green pointed out that Homewood, mostly developed in the early 20th century, was for decades home to middle and upper-class residents.

“That changed in the late 1980s and early 1990s when gang members brought drugs and violence into the neighborhood,” he said.

Among the committee's latest projects is a minipark developed at Race and Collier streets, which includes a walking path. Funded by a grant from the city's Love Your Block program, volunteers from the Barack Obama Academy of International Studies and St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church in Oakmont assisted in developing the park.

“This street looks 95 percent better than it did five years ago,” said Dorothy White-Sparrow, 62, another Race Street resident and a committee member.

“We are trying to give Homewood a different name. We are trying to get rid of the stigma the neighborhood has. It is flat and centrally located and has all kinds of potential.”

In discussing what's ahead for her neighborhood, White-Sparrow said she hopes to see old-fashioned street lights installed on the street.

“They would look fantastic.”

The Save Race Street Committee also plans to improve sidewalks and plant more gardens and install public art or playgrounds.

“The main problem here was depreciation in home ownership and home values. As a good neighbor, I've been involved in the cleanup effort for several years,” said John T. Smith, 65, a retired employee of the city's housing department.

Renovation of the street was funded with donations from several foundations, the TreeVitalize program, which is part of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, and stores like Home Depot.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at rwills@tribweb.com.

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