Lifestyle

People power prevailing in Bremerton's Anderson Cove

A group of teenagers play a game of basketball Tuesday at Matan Park in Anderson Cove. Residents say that neighbors’ efforts in the past few years to keep the park maintained have helped to make the area safer for children. - Lynsi Burton/staff photo
A group of teenagers play a game of basketball Tuesday at Matan Park in Anderson Cove. Residents say that neighbors’ efforts in the past few years to keep the park maintained have helped to make the area safer for children.
— image credit: Lynsi Burton/staff photo

When Carol Wilkerson first moved to the Anderson Cove neighborhood in Bremerton about six years ago, she didn’t feel very safe.

It had a reputation for drug use. Neighbors had visitors coming and going at all hours. She didn’t want her 10-year-old son playing at Matan Park because of the fights and unruly people there.

Now she says the neighborhood has seen a transformation in the past few years. Matan Park, once overrun with 4-foot grass, is mowed by neighbors. More families are moving into the homes and helping to supervise the children. Wilkerson likes taking her grandchildren to play at the park.

“That’s something I never would have done when I first lived here,” she said.

Having moved to Bremerton from Port Orchard, she heard the bad reputation Anderson Cove — and West Bremerton as a whole — had for crime and drugs. People told her to live in East Bremerton.

As a member of the neighborhood watch on Bloomington Avenue, formed in the last year, she has helped Anderson Cove become a more family-friendly neighborhood, where crime has gone down and residents have a vision of a more cohesive community.

FINDING THE NEED

Tracy and Kristin Williams, who have lived on Bloomington for almost two years, didn’t need to move into the low-income neighborhood to save money – they came by choice.

“We knew that we needed to be where the need was,” Kristin Williams said. “We knew there were hurting people.”

Since that time, the Williamses have helped form a neighborhood association and are in the process of obtaining non-profit status. They have also become known as a safe house for Bremerton residents having problems keeping their children or battling drug addiction, by helping those in need find jobs and housing.

Their help hasn’t always been successful – those seeking refuge in their home have sometimes left because they didn’t want to deal with the Williams’ ground rules. But little by little, Tracy and Kristin Williams are seeing progress in their chosen community.

“You can’t just come in and say. ‘Hey I want to help you’ and expect people to trust you,” Kristin Williams said. “What we do care about is actually helping this neighborhood learn again how to take care of each other.”

Tracy Williams waves at every neighbor who passes by with a stroller or in a car and he offers a hand to residents who need help fixing their car. He said that Anderson Cove, a neighborhood that sometimes feels walled off from the rest of the city, still carries the stigma of drugs and crime, even to people who live two blocks away from the area.

“It used to be ‘Don’t go down in the valley,’” he said, adding that over time, the reputation will change.

Katherine Caldwell, who has lived on Taft Avenue with her husband and three kids for four-and-a-half years, sees a new sense of community in the neighborhood and hopes more neighbors will get involved in the activities, such as the block parties.

“It’s kind of a new neighborhood coming in,” said Caldwell, who feared gang activity when she first arrived. “People are beginning to pay attention.”

CITY ATTENTION

City Councilwoman Dianne Robinson, whose district includes Anderson Cove, said city officials have not paid much attention to the low-income area to help it get on its feet.

“People in this community did not want to come together to do anything, even though they knew what the condition was,” she said.

The area, along with the former Westpark housing project and downtown Bremerton, is designated as “blighted,” which is required by state law to enable the city to redevelop the neighborhood and attract renewal grants. But it seemed the only city attention it got was from the police.

Andy Oakley, community resource specialist at the Bremerton Police Department, said Anderson Cove has been the target of numerous emphasis patrols because of its high crime rate. However, as Bremerton’s crime has gone down citywide, so has Anderson Cove’s, he said. As a result, it is being targeted less often by police.

Part of that is the efforts of residents to form neighborhood watch groups.

“They can take care of themselves and each other better,” Oakley said. “That’s a positive start. I think it gives them a sense of well-being.”

Last year, Matan Park received an $80,000 community development block grant from the city to expand and refurbish the open space, complete with new trails and new streetscaping. A timeline has not yet been set on when the park improvements will happen.

It is the self-reliance that residents say is making the difference in Anderson Cove. With the help of Bremerton Public Works and Utilities, residents will stage a neighborhood trash pick-up, and the neighborhood association is planning fundraisers to help the group get non-profit status.

Tracy Williams said city government isn’t the solution to Anderson Cove’s challenges.

“No matter what happens, it’s the people that are going to have to do something,” he said.

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