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Massena neighbors defend Sycamore Street


MASSENA - Anna M. Deshane is tired of what she considers to be stereotypes used to describe her home and her neighborhood on Sycamore Street.

Ms. Deshane, 62, has lived in on Sycamore for almost four years. Lately, she has seen Mayor James F. Hidy and other officials focus on cleaning up her block.

She said the attention is unwanted for those who live there; she is afraid to tell people where she lives because of the negative stigma attached with Sycamore Street.

“They look at you like you’re a freak,” she said.

Ms. Deshane and two neighbors, April L. Castle and Sherri L. Morris, sat on her front porch to discuss the block they call home on Friday morning, two days after Mr. Hidy held a meeting with village and county officials to discuss strategies for eliminating blight and crime in Massena’s Grove neighborhood. They are concerned with that the village might attempt to do to “clean up” their street and would like to be left alone.

A “peace” decoration hung on Ms. Deshane’s door, as well as a sticker reading “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” They consider their block to be family oriented and watch out for the well-being of neighbors and their children.

“If kids are running around, we watch the kids and make sure they don’t run off,” Ms. Deshane said. “They’re not our kids, but we’ll still watch them.”

They wonder why their particular block of Sycamore is viewed by the village as a benchmark for future revitalization.

“They treat us like we’re the Bronx,” Ms. Morris said.

“We don’t have a criminal record. Why is our name being crushed?” Ms. Morris asked. “We all breathe and bleed the same.”

“Do not judge a book by its cover,’ Ms. Castle added.

All three say they are on disability insurance; Ms. Deshane suffers from fibromyalgia and Ms. Castle said she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety related to abuse from when she was younger. All said they do not have a criminal past; they know of others in the neighborhood who do but leave those people alone, they said.

Sycamore Street between Woodlawn and Liberty Avenue is a tight-knit block, they say. The crime on the block is often associated with other groups and individuals from other neighborhoods coming there, including the “Bishop Boys,” a Massena gang, Ms. Morris said.

Once, a brawl erupted at Woodlawn and Sycamore, so the Sycamore neighbors joined in to help those they knew in the fight, Ms. Deshane said. She said she occasionally gets into fights like anyone else does.

“When one person from this block is involved, we’re all involved,” Ms. Deshane said.

“Nobody wants drama,” Ms. Castle added. “We all want to relax and live our lives happily.”

Ms. Deshane lives in a building owned by an out-of-town landlord. The women say he is doing his best to provide them with a good home, listen to their problems and dropped off a turkey for each tenant earlier this week.

It shouldn’t matter whether individuals are on public assistance or not, Ms. Deshane said: they’re still people.

“Are we perfect? No,’ Ms. Deshane said. “Do we sometimes not pick up our home because we are sick? Yes.”

“We’re trying to keep it together,” Ms. Morris added.

There are plenty of other areas for the village to focus on, Ms. Morris said. “What about all of these other blocks that are trashed around here?” she asked.

A village resident recently approached the Board of Trustees with concern over conditions children and animals were living in on the block. Ms. Deshane worried the village might start taking some of the animals on the block away.

She owns two dogs, five or six cats and a bird. A few of the cats scurried about the front yard and porch on Friday. She held back tears as she considered what would happen if animal control removed her pets.

“They make us get up to do what we need to do,” Ms. Deshane said of her pets.

Ms. Deshane said it wasn’t fair for those with money to criticize those without.

“If I had money, I swear to God I’d share it,” she said.

She was disappointed with Mr. Hidy, who she said ignored her during a recent visit to Sycamore Street.

“I haven’t got germs. I haven’t got the plague,” Ms. Deshane said. “He doesn’t want to be bothered by us.”

Mr. Hidy said he did not mean to ignore Ms. Deshane during his visit. He said he was showing County Legislator Jonathan Putney the conditions on the block at the time.

The village’s future efforts on Sycamore are intended to help all of Massena, including the residents who live on that street, Mr. Hidy said.

“We’re not trying to stereotype. We’re trying to put a neighborhood back together,” Mr. Hidy said.

Those living on Sycamore will have to play a role in its revitalization too, Mr. Hidy said. He encouraged those living there to become civically active on the block and plant flowers or gardens.

“We have to have their input,” Mr. Hidy said. “They’ve got to have a vested interest in this as well.”

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