It’s Halloween afternoon on Vail Avenue in Riverside, and the only people going door-to-door are me and Siris Barrios.
And we’re not trick-or-treating.
For the past two weeks, Siris has been walking through the hamlet of Riverside, knocking on doors and trying to find out what residents would like to see in the community, and what types of things concern them there.
Siris is the community liaison for the Riverside Rediscovered effort that Southampton Town recently undertook in an attempt to revitalize a hamlet that is considered to be one of the poorest in Suffolk County, and one that has been plagued by crime and drugs over the years.
She doesn’t walk alone.
“Whenever I can get someone to walk with me, I go door-to-door,” Siris said.
On Friday, she got someone to walk with her: me.
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We walked along Vail Avenue and Pine Street, which include some of Riverside’s more troubled neighborhoods. In fact, just a street over, on Old Quogue Road, a brothel was robbed at gunpoint last month.
From a reporter’s standpoint, it was a good chance to meet people in this neighborhood that we’ve written so much about over the years — including in a lot of police blotter items — though rarely interact with face-to-face.
While I regularly cover meetings of the Flanders, Riverside and Northampton Community Association — which has been very influential over the years — there aren’t too many people from the Old Quogue Road, Vail Avenue and Pine Street areas there, so it seemed like a good way to get feedback from these residents.
So off we went.
The first place had some people standing outside who spoke Spanish, so getting any feedback on my end quickly went out the window. Fortunately, Siris is fluent in both English and Spanish.
At the next house, no one answered the door. The next few houses, same thing. No answer.
Then there were a few homes with people who only spoke Spanish, so Siris talked to them.
As it turned out, getting feedback in Riverside wasn’t turning out to be as easy as I thought it would be.
We came across one Pine Street resident who spoke English and was willing to talk, though he didn’t want his name in the paper. He thought a Neighborhood Watch would serve the area well and said more activities for kids are needed.
Eventually, we got a few English-speaking people who were willing to offer their thoughts on what Riverside needs.
There was Louise Hobson, who came here 42 years ago from Virginia because the jobs here paid way more than those in Virginia at the time. Ironically, nowadays, people leave New York to go south for better jobs.
Ms. Hobson said there are a lot more homes in Riverside now than in 1972.
And there were residents like Norwood Bland, who made it clear he didn’t have much trust that people in government would even listen to him.
“If you speak to five people, only two will listen to you,” he said.
Siris — who did a lot of communicating in Spanish, then translated many concerns to me later on — said that getting out and knocking on doors in person is the best way to combat Mr. Bland’s concerns. That, and getting them involved with her effort, and Renaissance Downtowns’, to lift up Riverside.
“I feel that door-knocking is what’s going to help bring the message to people of what we’re doing, and specifically for Latinos, because they are not going to be hearing it from anywhere else,” Siris said.
Many of the Spanish-speaking people interviewed Friday were not even aware of the ongoing Riverside Rediscovered effort or of a public meeting Riverside Rediscovered is planning for today, Nov. 6. They said they didn’t read local newspapers — though some said they would, if they were written in Spanish.
One woman on Vail Avenue said the area is safe sometimes and not safe at other times. Don’t leave anything valuable in your car, she warned, because thieves frequently break car windows and steal things.
There were five such “smash and grab” thefts in Riverside in the Southampton Town police blotter this week, and three others where things were stolen from unlocked cars.
The woman said the prostitution problem in the area was worse before a fire at 43 Vail Ave., where police broke up a brothel in 2010.
Overall, residents cited needs like a grocery store, laundromat, better public transportation, a school where adults can learn English, quality housing and safer neighborhoods — similar to what people have said at the public FRNCA and Riverside Rediscovered meetings (aside from the school to learn English.)
In addition to trying to get feedback, Siris was also trying to get people to attend a Community Asset and Safety Mapping meeting scheduled for tonight, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. at Phillips Avenue Elementary School. Residents will be asked to map out areas where they don’t feel safe, as well as areas where assets like health care facilities or grocery stores are located.
If no one was home Friday, Siris left a flier on the door. And if they were, she tried to convince them to come to the meeting. Some of the people took the flier but didn’t look like they were going to attend the meeting. Others listened to her. Siris said she’s also spoken at local churches, particularly Hispanic ones, to get feedback.
The information Siris gets from her door-to-door interviews all feeds into Renaissance Downtowns’ overall plan for redeveloping Riverside, a plan that’s due in April.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, we didn’t wear Halloween costumes.
And unfortunately, no one offered us any candy.
Photo caption: A vacant home on Vail Avenue in Riverside. (Credit: Tim Gannon)