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In Kenney's South Philadelphia, violence and drugs have many hoping for change

After finishing her shift Tuesday evening at Farm Fresh Produce in Drexel Hill, Joyce Crocker took the subway back to South Philadelphia, where she lives and where Mayor-elect Jim Kenney was holding a town-hall meeting.

After finishing her shift Tuesday evening at Farm Fresh Produce in Drexel Hill, Joyce Crocker took the subway back to South Philadelphia, where she lives and where Mayor-elect Jim Kenney was holding a town-hall meeting.

Crocker moved to South Philadelphia's Whitman neighborhood two years ago, and has already seen the effect that street violence and unresponsive city services can have on a residential block. She wanted to tell the mayor-to-be about the issues on the 2500 block of South Reese Street, where she lives, in the hope that something will be done when he gets into office.

She was the first picked to speak at the town hall meeting, Kenney's second in a series of four this week.

"My neighborhood is wonderfully diverse, and there's so many great kids in our neighborhood," she told Kenney at South Philadelphia High School. "So many of them are imprisoned in their own homes so a stray bullet doesn't get them, and they deserve better than that."

There was no response from Kenney or his team. It was on to the next person who had a hand up in a sea of about 300 people.

The next day, Crocker, 46, said she was happy she went to the forum regardless.

"I like him a lot," Crocker said while sitting on her living room couch. "I would like to see more of community outreach. It sounds like that's the direction he wants to go in, have more community sense in our city."

Crocker, a single woman with two grown children, moved to Whitman in 2013 from Delaware County, where she was born and raised.

"I was like, 'What am I doing here? I belong in the city,' " she said. "There is such a sense of community in Philadelphia that you don't find in the suburbs."

She purchased her home and quickly made friends with her neighbors - the long-timers like Anthony "Sonny" DiLugi, and the new immigrants.

Soon after she moved in, the homeowner across the street died, and his house sat vacant for months. Drug dealers quickly took over, and the house became a magnet for drug sellers and users.

Police raided the house a few times. But days after it was cleared, it was back to the same business, Crocker said. Neighbors made several calls to the Department of Licenses and Inspections, but no one ever came out to board up the vacant home.

On Nov. 9, a fire broke out in the vacant house, consuming the entire two-story rowhouse and damaging the adjacent rowhouses.

"Had L&I come out and boarded up the house, this would've never happened," Crocker said.

L&I spokeswoman Beth Grossman said that records indicate two complaints were filed regarding the property prior to the Nov. 9 fire and that L&I addressed the concerns each time.

The fire displaced Anthony DiLugi and his wife, who have lived on South Reese Street since 1961, and two other families, who are currently taking shelter at a hotel.

On Wednesday, DiLugi was moving into another house on the block, which he is renting until he gets the insurance money to renovate his old one. At 82, he isn't going to start a new life elsewhere, he said.

When he saw Crocker, he asked how the town hall meeting went. He then proceeded to identify everything wrong with his block.

"You see this street? You know, for 45 years they didn't do nothing. The street is getting higher than the curbs. You call them 100 times," DiLugi said, pointing to the low sidewalks and filled potholes. "They don't do nothing."

This past election was the first time he didn't vote for a new mayor. DiLugi said he has lost hope in city government even if the new mayor-to-be is a South Philly man himself.

"No hope. I'm serious. No hope," DiLugi said as he stood outside, wearing a flannel shirt and blue Italia hat. "It's the first time I didn't vote ... because of the system. You live here and nothing gets done."

DiLugi, a retired contractor, pointed to an old Mazda SUV with tinted windows and a Delaware license plate that he said has been parked on the street for months. Drug dealers sell from the abandoned car sometimes, DiLugi said.

He and other neighbors have called police to get the car removed, but police officers told DiLugi that is the Parking Authority's job.

DiLugi said the police had done their job - chasing away drug dealers and trying to shut down their operations. It's the city's other services he wants improved - repaving streets, boarding up vacant homes, and trash cleanup. He thinks that would help deter crime.

Recent shootings and two homicides in the neighborhood this fall left some neighbors scared to come out of their homes or let children play outside.

215-854-5520 @InqCVargas