• April 4, 2004

Do We Remove the Security Bars?

Will I feel safe without bars on my windows?

Restoration Diary,

We are getting serious about starting the exterior restoration. I am going to call Kevin from Fresh Air Environmental Services to schedule the removal of the asbestos siding. We aren’t sure what condition the wood is in underneath the siding. Like most projects we start I am hoping for the best but preparing myself for the worst.

Our big debate, aside from what color to paint the house, is if we should remove the burglar/security bars covering the windows?

We have spoken with several members of the preservation society who encouraged us to remove the bars because they are a fire hazard and to rely on our security system.

Our neighbors, on the other hand, feel the neighborhood has gotten worse with drug dealers and prostitutes on the street corner a block from our house! I wonder how this is happening and I didn’t even realize it? I am often outside working in the yard and I had no idea. Our neighbors strongly advise us to keep the bars on for our protection.

At times I feel like there are two different worlds in our neighborhood. There is the world where people are buying these old homes and restoring them – the world without bars on the windows. And then there is the other world behind bars where most of my neighbors live; avoiding drug transactions and prostitutes while homeless people push shopping carts full of their worldly possessions down the street. The world where homes are allowed to decline because there is not enough money available for upkeep and home maintenance.

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of a homeless person walking down the street and feel guilty that we have the money to live in our house and to fix it up. I am not sure how to reconcile these two overlapping worlds?

Comments { 4 }
  1. jmo


    We are in the same situation and have written about it as well. Homelessness and the “real cost of living” is something I’ve been actively working on since 1991 when I moved back into the city. I don’t think you have to choose between advocating for helping your fellow man/woman and restoring your house. I know that there are a few things that we do to keep a balance in our lives because we appreciate the importance of having a “room of one’s own.”

    I’ve been working with Habitat for Humanity and Cabrini Alive off and on for years. (I met some great people and learned some handy skills that way.) We tithe a certain percentage of our income each year to causes that we feel help to address systemic problems. (We just put that money aside in our budget and pretend it isn’t there for us.) Lately, I’ve been actively researching low-income housing and socioeconomically mixed neighborhoods. (We live in one so far, but the balance is in danger.) If you have specific skills to donate, you can put a few hours at the disposal of local community centers and the Department of Health and Human Services.

    Do a little research online as to “WHY” people end up homeless, or mixed up with drugs and prostitution. The causes are varied and complex and there, BFTGOG, go you or I. The best that can be done is to treat these folks with dignity, even when it seems ill-received.

    Dignity is connected to choice, support, building life skills, building self-confidence, drug/alcohol rehabilitation programs, access to dignified human services (right now what someone has to go through to get help for food, shelter, health, mental health issues is humiliating). Being homeless is not a moral failing. They might find themselves a victim of circumstances beyond their control or poor choices. It may be a choice when someone doesn’t want to feel humiliated anymore by working with our social services system. Or, many homeless people want to find work, but the barriers to employment and then a permanent housing situation without an address or phone seems insurmountable. Most jobs do not pay a living wage. Federal low income levels for a single person require that they make $6.71/hr and work 40 hours a week. Anywhere in the US regardless of cost of living. Minimum wage is below that. Take your yearly salary and divide it by 2080. That is your approximate hourly pay. Now think about living where you are on $6.71 per hour. Frightening.

    If you can, set aside some time and money each year to balance out your work on the house. You won’t be able to solve everything. But you CAN be part of the solution. Often, your local alderperson or groups through idealist.org can help.

    Recently, I’ve walked with someone through obtaining services (help with health, food, taxes, utilities, etc.) and the process is demeaning. (I could only find out all of the real info on services with access to a computer and phone…something this person did not have.) As much as I could be a buffer for that person, I was…modeling for them and talking to them about seeing the providers of these services in a new light: Overworked, stretched and underpaid. They didn’t have to accept the attitude shown to them and they deserved the benefits until they could make it on their own. This is tougher than it seems when your self-esteem is already in shreds.

    You know how important safe and comfortable housing is. Take precautions for yourself. Support the system when you can. Peace–jmo

  2. Kristen

    Well. I cannot offer anything as eloquent and profound as J has, but my friends live in the worst part of Providence and also faced your bars dilemma. They decided to remove the bars – not so much for the historic aspect of restoring their Greek revival home, but because they said they wouldn’t allow the neighborhood to force them behind bars. They have a very good security system, with all points of access accounted for by either motion detectors or glass break. Lights in every room are on random timers. (Also, their yard is fenced and they have a mean-looking but sweet dog.) Break-ins are one thing – stuff can be replaced – but burglaries (break-ins to an attended house) and home invasions are another. Is there any way of researching statistics for your particular neighborhood? Police might be able to break down crimes so you could consider the ratio of violent crime to that of petty theft, etc. to help in your decision. Above all, you must be able to feel safe.

  3. Kevin


    My opinion’s always been that window cars create a self-fulfilling prophecy in the neighborhood.

    If it were me, I would make sure that I have a robust alarm system and then remove the bars.

    That’s very exciting about the asbestos siding coming down. I look forward to seeing it!

    Echo Park

  4. Christopher Busta-Peck

    I agree with Kevin – burglar bars seem to foreshadow the downfall of a neighborhood – they are installed because of people’s perceptions of crime rather than crime itself.

    Personally, I’m not that worried about the stuff in my house being stolen – most of what I have money in is either art materials or furniture so unwieldy and heavy as to make it impossible to fence.

    As a final note, and I’m sure that the time for this has passed, but if you do feel the need for burglar bars, you might talk to a local blacksmith and see what they can fabricate. I’ve seen some beautiful wrought iron burglar bars, and when done properly – especially the more whimsical ones, they add to the building and appear merely as additional ornament, rather than the eyesore that burglar bars can be.

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