Fairhill: Residents Confront Neighborhood Drug Problems

James Spry sweeps trash off his pavement each day.


Tiny plastic bags large enough to hold a little less than a teaspoon of drugs decorate the pavement at Front and Ontario streets.

These mini zip-lock bags are known as “nickel and dime bags,” for the $5 to $10 customers are expected to pay when they buy the bag of drugs.

Although the community has come a long way, Fairhill is one of the biggest crime and drug-ridden neighborhoods in North Philadelphia, and has been since the 1990s.

In 2006, there were about 1,178 narcotics arrests in the Fairhill neighborhood, according to crime statistics provided by the University of Pennsylvania’s Cartographic Modeling Lab.

A Fairhill resident sat on the stoop of a closed store.

“I’ve run many of the teenagers off of my steps because they smoke marijuana,” said James Spry, a Fairhill resident since 1993.

Instead of just calling the police each time he catches a teen smoking on his stoop, Spry has tried to reach out to them instead.

“I’ve tried to even talk to the teens about what they are doing to their bodies, what they’re doing to their minds, and how to be more serious about themselves and their health,” Spry said.

Jason Holt, a Fairhill resident of about 11 years, said he believes in addition to the all the using and dealing in the community, the lack of stable homes is also an issue. Many school-aged children in uniforms can be seen walking around the neighborhood or sitting on stoops during school hours.

“You’ll see a lot of kids who are just running around, getting into a lot of trouble,” Holt said.

Holt also expressed concern over the violence in the neighborhood on a daily basis.

“A lot of it also is just people who don’t have much, they live for their respect, so when you’re living for your respect, you’re willing to do anything to get it,” Holt said. “I’ve seen things escalate to a point to where it wouldn’t other places.”

However, Spry said he sees the brutality in the community as the residents’ cries for support.

“You have a lot of good people who have just gotten themselves in bad situations, and they’re just looking for help,” Spry said.

Despite the drugs and the violence, Spry said his biggest issue is all of the trash.

“Every day for the 19 to 20 years that I’ve been here, I’ve swept trash from in front of my pavement, off of my pavement from the neighbors,” Spry said.

James Spry swept trash off his pavement.

Both Holt and Spry would like for Mayor Michael Nutter to become more actively involved in fixing the problems that plague the neighborhood.

“I would like to see the mayor put more focus on our community in terms of allocation of dollars for improvement,” Holt said. “It doesn’t seem like there is much of focus here on helping maintain vacant lots and working with neighbors to address the issues when it relates to drugs.”

Spry said he would like to see the mayor make the neighborhood more organized and improve the communication between block captains and residents.

While there is a police presence in Fairhill, Holt said he recognizes that it is not just law enforcement’s job to change the community.

“You can’t blame the police for the problems that we have in our neighborhood,” Holt said. “You can blame them for the way that they react to them, but they’re only one of many factors, I think, if you want to change our community.”

Spry said he thinks the only way to improve the neighborhood as a whole is by reaching the youth and increasing awareness.

Discarded mufflers and soda cans littered the sidewalk.

“One of the things I would like to improve on the block is maybe having more meetings on the block, having meetings about different issues and ways that we can improve the block as a community,” Spry said.

Holt said he has been focusing on looking out for others and trying to form relationships with his neighbors. He added that he tries to show through his own actions that one doesn’t need to have a lot to help others.

Spry and Holt pointed out that, unlike their neighbors, they have the option to live somewhere else.

“I don’t have to live down here; I can go live exactly where I actually want,” Spry said. “I have good credit, I have a good job, I make good money, but I’m comfortable here.”

Holt said he moved to the neighborhood specifically to make an impact on its residents.

While there are many problems in the community, Spry said he has had some rewarding experiences. Spry said he particularly enjoys steering some of the young adults in the community to go to college.

Although drugs and violence may be rife in the neighborhood, these residents have shown that it only takes one person to create change.

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