Hampden County residents look to make South Holyoke safer - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Hampden County residents look to make South Holyoke safer

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The South Holyoke Safe Neighborhood Initiative continues to make strides in cleaning up the city since it began in August 2011.

Organizers told CBS 3 that they have visual proof that their actions are working.

"We did our first park cleanup and 50-plus syringes were found in the park," said Ed Caisse from the Hampden County Sheriff's Department. "A few months later, we cleaned it up again. There were 200-plus syringes. Months later, we cleaned it and found six. My feeling is even some of the drug users are respecting some of the work we're doing."

Caisse was referring to Carlos Vega Park in South Holyoke. It is an area that the group used quite a bit over the summer, as the group held a block party and a back-to-school celebration.

The city has taken notice.

"My constituents were very happy with what's been going on here, eliminating a lot of the things we shouldn't have in the streets such as needles," said Holyoke City Councilor Anthony Soto. "Blighted buildings have been cleaned up, it's just been very helpful."

Volunteers who help with the initiative said it is a challenge, but there are moments that show them they are on the right path.

"The thing that keeps us going is you see little bits of progress," said Lauren Hansen, an assistant professor from Western New England University. "You go to a family fun night or you hear some really cool statistics, like how many needles were found in the park, and it keeps you going."

As for the future of the initiative, Caisse said the goal is to eventually put the power in the hands of the residents.

"Ideally, where we're headed is trying to find the right leaders that live down in South Holyoke that are so vested, they could drive everything we've put together," Caisse stated. "We're trying to put together a system that is sustainable by the people who live down there."

Caisse went on to say that none of the work that they have done so far would have been possible without all of the volunteers, from public agencies and private businesses, who help make the group happen.

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