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Women work to push out pushers

Published Oct. 12, 2005

Barbara McKinney's neighbors call her Dick Tracy because of her constant battle to keep drug dealers out of her building in a public housing complex.

"I don't think there is one corner that's a drug-free zone, but we've gotten it down to a minimum," said Ms. McKinney, 40, who lives at the Lexington Terrace complex with her two sons. "We're able to move freely in the building without getting stopped by drug dealers in the hallway."

Ms. McKinney, her two sisters and a girlfriend have painted over graffiti that once covered the building's walls. She also keeps a supply of light bulbs to replace those that burn out in the halls and elevator. And she won't tolerate laundry hanging from residents' windows.

The city operates 39 public housing developments. About 38,000 people live in them. The average annual income of families living in public housing is $6,900, said Bill Toohey, a spokesman for the city's housing authority.

Amid the despair of drugs and poverty, some heroes such as Ms. McKinney have emerged.

The difference is noticeable even within different buildings at Lexington Terrace, Toohey said.

"We went in one where the stairwells were littered and dirty. There was a prevalent smell of urine, and on the walls were written the prices for various types of drugs," he said. "But when we went into McKinney's building, there were stencils of flowers along the wall."

Over at the Claremont Homes complex, Anna Warren, 56, has organized neighborhood marches to let drug dealers know that trafficking won't be tolerated.

"They come to the poor sections selling drugs. Some people let their kids go hungry so that they can have that stuff," she said. "We want the drug dealers to know that we don't want them on our corners."

Ms. Warren knows how devastating drugs can be. One of her seven children sells and uses drugs.

"He knows he can't come to my house. He knows that if he comes here I'll dial 911," she said. "I love him, and when he stops playing with drugs, I'll be there for him. But right now, there's nothing I can do."

Ms. Warren led the fight to have the Claremont Recreation Center reopened after it was closed by the city in 1987. The center was up and running two years later.

"She started collecting old toys and new money," Toohey said. "It was her initiative and drive that really got things moving."

Ms. Warren also organizes Halloween and Christmas parties for the children. She's asking the complex's 444 families to each donate $4 to buy toys and food for the holidays.