Each morning, Kirk Hightower grabs his broom and dustpan and takes to the 200 block of North Ruby Street. On this day, he shares it with more than half a dozen stray cats.
Referred to admiringly by neighbors as Captain Kirk, Hightower spends nearly 20 minutes sweeping.
He starts with his porch before making his way to the sidewalk, street and eventually, the porches of the six abandoned houses on the block.
Along with leaves and rubbish, Hightower brushes away the wrongdoings of the previous day. He scoops littered fast food bags and broken glass from break-ins of empty homes into his dustpan and throws it away.
Jokingly, the self-proclaimed last senior citizen of Ruby Street calls it his physical therapy. In reality it is his contribution to the maintenance of a recovering area.
Hightower’s daily routine is one of the few constants on a block, which, in recent years, has been best characterized by change.
Nine years ago, the block was overrun with drug dealers and federal agents perched on rooftops, said Ruby Street resident Patrice Owens and her mother Josephine Griggs.
Now, with police and neighbors keeping a closer eye on the Haddington street, crime is not as rampant.
Next year, however, residents and law enforcement may have new neighbors to keep on their radar.
St. Joseph’s Baptist Church, located at 5412 Vine St., has applied for a permit to open a rehabilitation center in a former convent on the corner of North Ruby Street.
Given recent history, the block appears to be a good fit for an institution with a focus on recovery. Residents, though, disagreed.
Bruce Clark, who has owned a home on Ruby Street for a year, said he heard about the plan to bring a rehab center to the block through the grape vine rather than from the local church.
Since then, the news has spread amongst most of the block in a similar manner, leaving a majority of the street’s householders expressing concern over potential setbacks.
While Ruby Street has made strides towards eliminating crime, its stray cat problem is far from its biggest.
The narrow street of row homes has more abandoned properties than trees. Currently, a registered sex offender lives on the block.
Most troublesome, drug activity, though slower than before, is still visible in the area, neighbors said.
Residents said they think such an environment is not a proper setting for a rehab center and the placement of one on the corner could prove to be detrimental for both the neighbors and those who enroll in the potential program.
Jannac Jenkins, who has lived on Ruby Street since 2009, said the presence of drug addicts on the corner could be taken advantage of by opportunistic dealers.
The abandoned homes in the neighborhood could be used by dealers and struggling addicts for transactions or drug use, he said.
“There’s an abandoned house right across the street from my house. The door blows off the hinges, and when the door blows in, that’s creating a safe haven for drug addicts to go in and do more drugs,” said Jenkins.
Owens shared similar sentiments.
“One out of 10 might get cleaned up. If they don’t get cleaned up, all they’re going to do is come on this block to use their drugs, get their drugs or start selling their drugs, and that’s not good for the neighborhood,” Owens said of people who may attend a rehabilitation program in the area.
The biggest concern voiced by members of the block regarding the possibility of a rehabilitation center is the safety of the children who reside and play on Ruby Street.
“We don’t want nobody to mess with the children, cause there’s so many children here,” said Hightower.
More than 17 children live on the block and roam the street often, said Clark.
This is especially true during the summer, when the block hosts a recreational program called “The Lunch Program,” said Hightower.
If a rehab center is opened on the block, the combination of a large group of children on a block with many empty, unsupervised properties and an influx of strangers to Ruby Street could be disastrous, neighbors said.
“People could drag anything into these alleyways and do anything to these kids. Once that opens, you’ve got strange people not even from around here watching our children. It’s not good,” said Owens.
Neighbors made it clear they are not opposed to the idea of a rehabilitation center in the community.
Rob Johnson said many individuals in the neighborhood are in need of such services.
Those people deserve a chance to recover, Hightower added.
However, Ruby Street is not the proper place for such an institution, neighbors said.
“Let the city set something up in an area that’s not full of children,” said Clark.
Clark has been the most active neighbor in opposing the creation of the rehab center.
Griggs estimated a petition started by Clark had garnered 50 signatures already.
In addition, Clark has been to several meetings to speak out against the issue.
On Oct. 24, members of the street said they planned to attend a zoning meeting in which they hope the city will put an end to the rehab center project.
“It’s up to the zoning board. You have a hearing, people voice their opinions, they make a decision and that’s that. Basically, I think come October 24, it’ll be all over,” said Clark.