BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Drug dealing. Public drunkenness. Vandalism. Two Biloxi pastors said they've seen a shift in the neighborhood between Iberville Drive and McDonnell Avenue and not for the better.
Bishop James Black and Reverend Jason Johnson are both pastors and business owners in the community. They said many people here no longer feel like they can safely let their children go outside and play.
As the owner of a rental house on Iberville Drive, Black said he's had a lot of trouble finding people who move in and don't quickly move out.
"I've had tenants to move out because of the drug traffic we see here," said Black. "But not just Iberville Drive. It's also on Rodenberg. It's on McDonnell Avenue. Standing on the corners and doing things of that nature."
Black said he believes the problems in the neighborhood stem from underlying social issues.
"One thing we want to see changed is people becoming more productive," said Black. "Most of these are grown folk walking the streets all day. I'm one of those who believes if you want a job, you could find something. Picking up cans or whatever it is. I'm talking about men now that should be working and not walking the streets every day."
Bishop Black and Rev. Johnson said they're concerned about how the drug dealing and drunkenness they see going on in the streets is affecting the community.
"Particularly on Rodenberg Avenue where you have a community of homeowners," said Black. "Older people who have been there for years and years. Many of whom are afraid to come outside to enjoy their porches. They don't want to hear the language. Many young people are walking the streets doing things they shouldn't be doing."
Johnson said, "We don't want to see crime. We don't want to see people are afraid to come here and live on this side of Biloxi. We want people to feel they are safe and their children can play outside."
Both Johnson and Black have churches on Rodenberg Avenue and businesses on Iberville Drive. They don't want the troublemakers to have a change of address but a change of heart..
"We don't want the people to go away. This is a community. We want all the people to enjoy this side of Biloxi," said Johnson. "I have a business on this street. I also have apartments as well. We just want it to be a happy blended community where it's peaceful and people don't have to live in fear."
Johnson pastors Abundant Life Evangelistic Center. The church has purchased property on Iberville Drive for the construction of a family life center which will include a gym and after school activities for children. Johnson wants to see a change before the center is built.
"I've seen people walking the streets. I've seen things that look like illegal drug activity, alcohol. All types of things," said Johnson. "I've even seen people laying on the streets."
"As a concerned community person, I want to make a difference,' Johnson said. "I am one that I will stand up and try to find out what's going on. Try to help the people because again in ministry we help people. We feed people. We pray for people. My church personally this month we're going to get out here and knock on doors. Try to find out what's going on with people. Invite them to church."
Biloxi Police Chief John Miller tells me his department has stepped up patrol in this area and is in the process of organizing a neighborhood business watch.
"You've heard of Neighborhood Watch well we'd like the businesses to also have a Neighborhood Watch," said Chief Miller. "We're in the process of implementing that and we're hoping that's going to help. Certainly we need help from the neighborhood there. The folks that live in that area. If they see things that are not right or out of order they need, we'd appreciate if they'd call us."
Chief Miller said he believes it's a very small percentage of the residents who are causing the problems so it's important that people report the criminal activity.