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A sign of troubled times

“No Heroin Parking.”

It’s the kind of thing you think you wouldn’t have to tell people, especially along a tidy block of residential homes in Port Richmond.

But that’s exactly what one Clearfield Street resident was compelled to do a couple of weeks back after getting fed up with a drug user who pulled up in front of his house for a quick hit of dope.

A Port Richmond resident, who asked to be only identified as David, said he was driven to paint a “No Heroin Parking” sign on to a piece of plywood and nail it to the telephone pole across the street from his home after a disturbing incident.

After catching a woman he claims was shooting heroin into her arm while seated behind the wheel of a vehicle parked near his home, David posted the sign.

Of all the anti-drug measures undertaken by the city in recent years — from former Mayor John Street’s Operation Safer Streets straight through to the current Philly Rising program — this surely ranks as one of the more creative measures to fight the seedy element of drug abuse permeating neighborhoods like Port Richmond.

So far, it seems to be working, David said.

The original incident, he recalled, happened a few weeks back when he thought he saw a friend’s truck pull up. Instead, he saw a young woman sitting hunched over in the front seat of a truck.

“I thought she was writing something down,” David said. “Then she threw some wrappers out the window and I knew what she was doing.”

Irritated by the blatant drug use, he confronted the woman and took photos of her truck with his cell phone.

“I thought I’d just put it on Facebook and embarrass the girl,” he said.

But, to his surprise, the woman shouted back that she was a drug counselor and produced some form of identification.

Unfazed, David said he told her he would contact the police to discuss her ID and, without warning, she took off.

But, he didn’t report the incident to police.

Instead, David said, a friend gave him the idea for a sign after he told the story at work, and he followed through.

“We haven’t seen anything out here since I put that up,” he said.

But, before then, the resident complained that the area was host to a steady stream of users who, he believes, head down Clearfield Street to find drugs on Kensington Avenue — a strip known throughout the region as an easy place to score — and return with their illicit goods.

“You could sit there all day and watch them walk up Clearfield Street,” he said.

As of press time, the 24th Police District hadn’t returned calls asking about drug arrests in the area.

But, Maryann Trombetta, head of the Port Richmond Town Watch, said David made a mistake by not calling the police immediately after the incident.

“I think it’s terrible. He should take that sign down,” she said. “He scared them off, so take the sign down.”

Trombetta, who patrols with her group regularly to find problems throughout the community — often instances of graffiti — said she worries that neighbors living near the sign might be afraid their property values will go down.

“If I was out to buy a house … I wouldn’t buy a house by there,” she said. “I understand why he did it. But, I wouldn’t have handled it that way.”

But, a neighbor who lives on Clearfield Street praised the sign, saying the area is rife with open-air drug sales.

While she asked to remain anonymous, the neighbor said she hopes the spray-painted sign makes an impact on the neighborhood problem.

“Thank you for finally seeing this,” she said. “I live right down the block from that sign and deals go on right outside my house.”

Mary, another neighbor on Clearfield Street, said she was concerned at how the sign might make others feel about the neighborhood. But, along with drug use, she worried that area car break-ins — a common occurrence throughout the river wards — were the work of area drug addicts.

“It doesn’t look good for our neighborhood,” she said. “But, it’s good if it chases them away and let’s them know that somebody is watching.”

Trombetta said the best thing David could have done would have been to contact the police, because, if everybody in the city put up similar signs, the streets would be besieged with similar “Don’t Shoot Up” and “Don’t Steal” signs.

“That’s what would happen if you have signs like that all over the place,” she said, noting that drug use is a problem throughout the city. “You can’t say that ‘they don’t do it in my neighborhood’ anymore, because they do this everywhere.”

Reporter Hayden Mitman can be reached at 215–354–3124 or hmitman@bsmphilly.com

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