'Northside is just something special:' They love their neighborhood -- but not 'what's going on' in the alley

Kelley: 'It's almost like having a small town in a metropolitan area. It's like it's own little enclave.'
Posted at 7:25 PM, May 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-12 17:29:59-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Leigh Kelley and his family have lived near Hawthorne Avenue on Richmond's Northside for about six years.

"Northside is just something special," Kelley said while sitting with his family Sunday afternoon. "It's almost like having a small town in a metropolitan area. It's like it's own little enclave."

His neighborhood is a white-picket-fence kind of neighborhood, on one side.

"It's a great sense of community, except what's going on in the alley," Kelley said.

Farren Billue and Leigh Kelley
Farren Billue and Leigh Kelley

What's happening in the alley, separating some homes on Hawthorne Avenue from the backside of several businesses on Chamberlayne Avenue, has been a point of concern for Kelley's family and their neighbors for years.

Neighbors shared pictures and stories of alleged drug deals and suspected prostitution happening right behind their homes, with most of the activity happening in the alley.

"The fall of 2022 was really when we started to see an increase in drug use, and just blatant prostitution," Farren Billue said. "We did send emails to our council person, we were constantly calling the police, because we could just see the direction that the alley was going. And Hawthorne was going and we wanted to try to stop that."

Northside Crime
Linda Pechin

"There will be days where I call three times a day," said Linda Pechin, who moved into a home right beside the alley four years ago.

Pechin said she's kept a running list of the number of times she's seen someone who looks to be overdosing in the alley way, counting at least 50 to 75 different calls to police in the last few months.

"There's been a steady uptake of drug dealing, drug use, prostitution, now gunshots, which I never heard before these last few months," Pechin said.

Northside Crime

So far this year, there have been three shootings in the area, the most recent being a homicide on April 30.

The area is considered to be one of Richmond Police's "hot spots," or areas of centralized crime that police are putting more resources toward.

Billue said only recently did she and other neighbors get some kind of response from city leadership.

There have been some changes, including lighting improvements and the alley being paved.

Police have come to patrol the area once, but Billue said it's taken time to get increased police presence in the area.

"The repeating aspect is that there's been a shortage of police, they don't have enough people on foot to present all the time, but in the same breath we're hearing call the police, call 911, so it starts to feel like we're taking away from resources that might be real health emergencies," Billue said. "But at the same time, our safety is a concern, so it starts to feel like a contradiction of what we're being told."

Northside Crime

The neighbors say they've joined together to share their concerns, questioning how the city can respond to help those in need, rather than punish them.

"We've actually heard the statement, 'Well it's just the culture,'" Billue said. "If that's the culture, the culture can change. The neighborhood is speaking and saying that's not the culture we want here."

CBS 6 reached out to the neighborhood's City Council representative as well as Richmond Police for a response and we were still waiting to hear back as of late Sunday.

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