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Up Close: Life is tough in the 'Gulfton Ghetto'

09:19 AM CDT on Friday, June 17, 2005

By Dave Fehling / 11 News

Click to watch video

By almost any measure, Gulfton is a neighborhood in trouble.


"Things have gotten pretty bad out here, again," said one resident.

"Things have gotten pretty bad out here, again," said one resident.

The area just south of the Southwest Freeway has block after block of some of Houston's most affordable apartments.

But while Gulfton has cheap rents, it also has one of the worst rates for violent crime, stolen cars and for kids getting hit crossing streets -- worse here than anywhere in Houston.

"There's a lot of people crazy around this area here," said one young mother who lives in Gulfton. She told us she tries to never go out at night.

Same goes for Pat Graham.

"Terrified, really terrified," she says.

Graham has lived here 16 years and says the drug dealing is just a few doors down.

"You don't want to say anything because of retaliation," she says.

And then, there are the prostitutes.

"They're like a dime a dozen," one resident complained during a town hall meeting Wednesday.

"And they're getting naked right under a new spotlight," said another.

They pleaded for help, but city officials said Houston has fewer police than other big cities.

Council member M. J. Khan commended the cops for doing what they could with little resources.

Gulfton's problems may appear even worse when you compare them to life just a few blocks away. In fact, we found one man who did just that.

"You almost get a different sense of feeling once you cross over to Bellaire," said University of Houston professor Peter Nguyen.

Nguyen can't help but see the stark contrast of Gulfton's rock-bottom apartments bordered by the city of Bellaire's fine homes.

"And my wish is to have the people in the Gulfton area receive that same sense of safety," Nguyen said.

But how to make that happen? The professor started by having his students interview dozens of Gulfton residents.

"They're all working people," Nguyen said.

Many are very recent immigrants.

"Its very hard to reach this population and get them involved because they do live day to day, they try to survive day to day," explained Nguyen.

He says that means they are hard-pressed to get involved in neighborhood crime watches and other grassroots efforts that have helped other neighborhoods.

The city, Nguyen thinks, must do more.

"My guess is you can only do so much given so little," said Nguyen. "I think it's a matter of shifting priorities."

"With the reduction mode in manpower we're facing now, its more of a challenge," said HPD Captain Bruce Williams.

Would more police make a difference? An intense, summer-long effort last year headed by HPD's Major Offenders Squad made several hundred arrests. While the operation was going on, crime dropped by some 15 percent

But Williams says more help is on the way. Federal agents are now working with HPD on a secret plan to root out Gulfton's most serious crooks, including members of the notorious MS-13 gang.

"By essentially targeting the hardened criminals, the worst of the worst. Finding them, targeting them, intelligence gathering," said Williams.

Police are also changing tactics when it comes to prostitutes, going after the big-bucks owners of day spas that can be fronts for prostitution.

"And it's worth millions of dollars. You just can't imagine how much money is there," said HPD Vice Capt. Steve Jett.

Will it someday soon mean the people of Gulfton will have that sense of safety the professor talked about?

"I do believe there's a change. I'm very optimistic," said Nguyen.

A change for the better--- maybe-- for a neighborhood that so sorely needs it.

Inside KHOU.com

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