Selecting a Safe Neighborhood

Work, school, convenience or level of income can sometimes lead you to live in a high crime neighbourhood. You might save money in the short run, but you can also lose it to theft, burglary, robbery and vandalism. You might think that you are saving time in commuting to work or school, but then lose it from missed sleep, replacing stolen or damaged items and spending most of your waking moments planning for survival.
While attending university, I cut costs by splitting a cheap rent apartment with a buddy. Despite the fact that cop and prison guard friends kept recognizing several of my neighbors, I stuck it out for a couple of years. For the sake of saving $100 a month, I had to put up with break-ins, urine in the elevators, drunks in the stairway, hookers outside, hookers inside, hookers’ customers screaming for service at 3 a.m., drunken couples beating on each other and panhandlers skulking around. The politest and quietest neighbours were the dope dealers down the hall. For $3 a day more, I moved into a quieter, safer neighbourhood. It was no surprise that both my sleep and school studies improved.
Before moving into a new place, take a good look around. Are the tenants long term? Garbage nearby? How about the landlord/landlady? Try talking to the neighbours. Although many people will deny that there is a problem, their general attitude can tell you what you want to know. One apartment that I looked into had some big, demented-looking guy staring at me as I entered the front entrance. By contrast, the land lady was a good-looking woman even with all of her blue tattoos. She explained to me that the cluttered hall way was going to get fixed up “eventually.” The apartment for rent had two-by-four wood pieces nailed across the inside of the apartment door. The land lady explained that theft was not a problem as all of the neighbours looked out for each other. On the way out the front entrance, a scruffy-looking woman tried to bum a cigarette off of me. To move in there was asking for a break-in.
Another indicator of a bad neighborhood, unfortunately, is anywhere near government housing projects. (The exception is for seniors’ housing.) City hall and university professors have boasted and patted themselves on the back about their specially designed housing, but none of them ever had to actually live in or near one.
For instance, one of my professors from the University of Manitoba described a multi-million dollar housing project built for newly immigrated people from different parts of Africa. The project had a large, inside meeting/recreation room with sky-light windows, so that the residents could “bond together as a community.” This only worked in theory. The new residents had been from warring tribes and still carried some strong grudges. After several fights and disturbances, the residents were relocated elsewhere.
If local community center has signs like: No One is Allowed Downstairs Alone and there are kids running everywhere with minimum supervision, then take it as a bad sign. Good community centers usually have structured courses and classes. Low income areas usually have Drop-In type facilities that seem to act as a kind of day care.
Other bad signs are check cashing services, rooming houses, half-way houses, walk-in clinics, community policing, legal services, barred windows, game arcades and pawn shops. When I was renovating a house in Winnipeg’s core area, I noticed that a few days before Welfare Wednesday there would be a steady stream of people going to Dino’s pawn shop with their (or someone else’s) VCR under their arm. They all walked like extras from The Night of the Living Dead movie, with the same zombie-like shuffle. The day after the checks were in, there was a busy stream of people, with big grins on their faces with VCRs under their arms, coming out of the pawn shop.
A very good time to watch an area is in the evening and near the end of the month, when most social assistance and pay checks are in. Neighbourhoods on social assistance will usually be “celebrating” and showing their true colors. In Canada, the last Wednesday of the month is when provincial and federal security checks are sent out to seniors and people on social assistance. Additionally, some cities also release social assistance checks on the second Wednesday of the month. Hence, “Welfare Wednesday” is often a busy time for taxi services and bars. A cab drive buddy of mine called it the time of “3-day millionaires” or “The Mardi Gras.” This is a time of late night boozing, drugs and conflict amongst the partiers. Violent crimes usually occur around this time, especially if it is near the end of the month and everyone just got paid. A few days prior to this party time, there tends to be more pan handlers on the street, more theft and more robberies.
I once moved into the house, that I was renovating, in this low-income neighborhood. By day, it was a fairly quiet area, next to a private girl’s school (Balmoral Hall). But, at night, it was like feeding time at the zoo, without the cages. During this “partying” by the “three-day millionaires,” vehicle tires were slashed, front yards were trashed, drunken brawls broke out and drunks were shouting and screaming from dusk to dawn. The noise was just non-stop. The following day, the few working people or students who did live in the area, would just carry on like normal. (It reminded me of my U.N. peacekeeping tour of southern Croatia, in former Yugoslavia after a mortar attack. When the smoke cleared, the Serbian villagers would come out of their houses and go about their business like nothing had happened.)
In this same neighbourhood, I once called in a complained about a house, next to mine in Winnipeg and the city hall clerk threatened me with a fine for building materials in my back yard. It turned out that the next door rooming house was owned and operated by a local politician’s son.
An indicator of a crime-ridden area does not have to have a logical explanation. For instance, according to Paul J. McNulty, a counsel for a Judiciary Sub committee: “The single most reliable predictor of violent crime in a neighbourhood, is the proportion of single-parent families.” This is not to blame single parents for crime as many single parents raise normal, healthy children, just as many two-parent families produce violent criminals. Like dark clouds before a possible thunder storm, this is just one more indicator to look for.
If you are in a crime-ridden neighborhood, you can improve your situation by reporting every loud party or suspect drug pusher to the police. If you know a police officer personally, so much the better, as he or she can feed the information directly to the investigating sources. Join neighborhood watch. Complain to the manager about noise and/or seedy characters. Make damn sure that your lock has been changed when you move into the building. Change it again when there is a building management change.
In one apartment block that I lived in, the owners changed three times. One of the maintenance guys was always hanging around with a rough-looking crowd. This crowd never did anything, but hand off envelopes to kids on bikes. When this maintenance guy was fired, my apartment was robbed a couple of weeks afterwards. The thieves must have had a pass key as there were no signs of entry.
Be careful who visits your home. The friend of a friend can always mention your work schedule and CD collection to their burglar friend. During my time as a casual laborer, I was amazed at the lack of screening for cheap labour. This includes installing Christmas lights, landscaping, moving furniture, house painting, alarm installation and building maintenance. Most of the laborers whom I worked with, were good, hard-working, honest people. But a few, I would not let into an outhouse, let alone my home.
Another sure way to get ripped off is to live with the wrong roommate. A classic case is the person who is low on funds and takes in a questionable roommate. After a series of housing damage, missing items and bounced checks, the bad roommate skips town, leaving the landlord/lady in a bigger predicament than before. Or people who rebound after a relationship break up. They move in with their “dream boat” only to wake up to a nightmare.