- Associated Press - Saturday, October 17, 2015

HOUMA, La. (AP) - A new Neighborhood Watch Group in Houma has been started to ensure the safety of special-needs residents vulnerable to becoming targets of criminal activity.

About 18 residents of the START Corp. housing units along Magnolia Street have banded together to look out for each other and report any suspicious activities to law enforcement.

As most residents are living with mental illness or recovering from substance abuse issues, the Neighborhood Watch coordinator, Sgt. Sidera Adams, said they are probable targets for criminals looking for money, drugs or a place to sleep at night.

“They are victims of the same type of crimes but just on a different level because of their living situation,” Adams said. “We’re trying to send a message that they’re not going to tolerate it.”

START Corp. officials contacted Adams this past summer after noticing an increase in trespassing, petty thefts, prostitution and similar crimes after hours over the last six months.

Food, medication and appliances are among the items being stolen from the residents, resulting in one having to change his door lock three times, authorities said.

Break-ins are also frequent. At one point, there were three people living in a one-bedroom apartment and the resident was forced to sleep on the sofa, Adams said.

The first official meeting took place Sept. 23 when residents discussed the possibility of installing peepholes on their doors to help stave off unwanted visitors and ensure enough time to call the police.

“It’s just simple rules to help them stay safe and be safe,” Adams said. “It’s just conveying that to them in a way they can understand.”

START Corp. Administrative Director Mary Russo noted that the lack of safety had caused several residents to lapse into old habits and become hospitalized, hampering their recovery.

“We want them to be able to live independently in a safe manner,” Russo said, adding that the landlords were limited in the type of security they could provide to residents.

Although most offenders are banned from the property, they may see some of the residents walking on the streets and intimidate them into giving them what they want, Adams said.

“I’ve had the residents tell me that they’re afraid to tell me who’s in their apartment,” she added. “They’re afraid to tell the police because they’ve had threats made against them.”

A recent occurrence involved a resident who participated in the National Night Out Against Crime event last week at Bayou Towers. He found his apartment locked in from the inside and had to sleep on the porch after he got back, Russo said.

“By the time it was discovered, they had scattered,” she added.

While most residents are still hesitant to come forward, longtime resident John Wayne Jackson said he’s grateful for the group after seeing criminals solicit his neighbors.

“If they got the money, they’ll beat them up,” Jackson said. “They come late at night.”

Adams has repeatedly encouraged residents to report incidents to their case workers, who can then inform law enforcement on their behalf.

“Most of them have the same needs and wants as everybody else,” peer support supervisor and case worker Barbara Smith said. “They want to feel safe. They want to keep their own neighborhoods safe for themselves. If they can’t do that, there’s going to be a hospital visit.”

The Magnolia Street START Corp. group is the 37th Neighborhood Watch group in Houma, an increase of four from the 33 groups noted earlier this year. The Mandalay Woods, Wildwood Heights and Adoue Street areas have also started up their own groups.


Information from: The Courier, https://www.houmatoday.com

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