The Monday morning after the Anchor House Ride for Runaways was over, employees showed up for work at the emergency shelter on Centre Street in Trenton and discovered that a giant hole had been cut in the roof of the shelter’s garage.
The garage is used to store all of the supplies for the Ride for Runaways. The previous day, volunteers — many of them cyclists who has just completed the 506-mile ride in temperatures that soared above 100 degrees — spent several hours at the shelter volunteering their time to clean out all the support vehicles used on the ride, hose down and scrub all the tables and coolers, and stack up all the tents, chairs and other supplies.
All of the items were placed in the garage for safe keeping, the garage was locked, and a van was parked in front of the garage door.
But little did the volunteers know that someone had been watching and waiting. During the night, thieves cut a hole in the roof, climbed in, and looted the garage, taking whatever they could move out that hole in the roof — fold-up tents, bike pumps, and more. What they didn’t take, they turned upside down, ransacking the place in search of money or other valuables.
Granted, in the scheme of things that are happening in Trenton, the robbery is just a teensy blip on the crime radar screen. It didn’t warrant an item in the police blotter in the local papers, and columnists who promised to write about it never did because there were shootings and stabbings and more sensational items to cover.
Within a span of less than 36 hours this weekend, four more people were murdered in the city. An innocent bystander was shot on his porch stoop, one man was shot in the back and another in the head, and a fourth victim was stabbed. The killings bring the number Trenton homicides this year to 27. If the trend continues, Trenton is on track to beat its 2005 record of 31 homicides when gang violence spiraled out of control after city officials had, for so long, tried to deny that it was a problem.
But the violence this weekend still brings me back to thinking about that hole in the roof at Anchor House. Ordinarily even on the streets there is still a moral code, and doing harm to an agency that is trying to help people would be taboo. I recall how my mother, a social worker, was able to make visits to shut-ins in the worst parts of Detroit and was never afraid because of this code. The drug dealers knew why she was in the neighborhood and even escorted her to her car.
The hole in that roof is symbolic of the fact that things have deteriorated so much in the city that nothing is sacred anymore. Life is cheap, everything goes, and a robbery of a nonprofit serving runaways and abused kids is just another small blip on the screen.
There is no doubt that Trenton needs a stronger police presence. None of us would deny that. The city has been suffering ever since it laid off more than 100 officers in September of 2001 due to budget cuts. Mayor Tony Mack’s most recent response to the escalating homicide rate and violence has been to send a letter Friday to Gov. Chris Christie asking for $10 million in annual aid to hire 75 more police officers, a pie-in-the-sky move city activists say shows that Mack does not understand the state aid formula.
But Trenton needs more than just pie-in-the-sky ideas. It needs real solutions, and more than anything it needs real leadership, and not just from city hall. The question is, who will step forward and work to find creative solutions? Where are all the leaders in the community? It’s time they lead and find solutions.
No more blaming. No more excuses. It’s time for action.
It would be easy to despair. But when I think of all of the great people in Trenton, the miracles some agencies are performing there every day, and the other resources we have in the area, I have hope that things can turn around. And when I think of the young people at Anchor House, I am optimistic about the future.
When an employee who discovered the hole was distraught, one of the teens living at the shelter put a hand on her shoulder and said “Don’t worry, we’ll figure this out.”
Later, some of the young adults who are residents in Anchor House programs helped clean up the mess and moved all the supplies to a secure storage facility. They didn’t expect a thank you. They just wanted to do their part to help.