Every Halloween, the exodus.
In Grove Hall and other troubled Boston neighborhoods, adults strap their masked superheroes and poufy princesses into car seats and make the drive to Jamaica Plain, Brookline, or Wellesley. They won’t risk taking their kids trick-or-treating in their own communities.
“I take my nephew and nieces to Milton,” Natasha Bautista, 21, said Wednesday morning. “It’s not really safe around here.”
She was sitting in a salon on Humboldt Ave., one of Roxbury’s gang hot spots. Further up the street, Kathy Jamison, 45, shook her head at the mayhem that seems so often to grip the neighborhood. She went trick-or-treating here as a kid: “Everybody knew each other, we had fun.” But she sees why parents won’t bring their kids around these same streets now.
“Your kids will have a better chance of enjoying Halloween if you go somewhere else,” said Jamison, now of Braintree.
In the few years artist Megan Dickerson has lived on Hutchings Street, which runs off Humboldt, she has seen an already-tiny contingent of local trick-or-treaters dwindle further. Fewer kids means fewer residents stocking up on candy. Which gives trick-or-treaters less reason to stop by.
She wants to break that sad cycle. Growing up in California, Dickerson, now in charge of community partnerships at The Children’s Museum, sold Girl Scout cookies to neighbors. She knew who lived where, whose door to knock on if she was in trouble. She felt safe. Perhaps Halloween could help give that to kids here, too.
“It’s the only time of year kids go door to door and have the same experience I did,” she said. “People give you something, you go on your way. It’s a short interaction, but it creates a little bit of a bond.”
Dickerson, 32, knows something about creating bonds. A few years back, she helped gather scores of families in Union Square in Somerville for outdoor showings of “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” complete with Oompa Loompas and chocolate smells. “Everyone was united in wonder,” she recalled.
In a similar vein, Dickerson and some neighbors have decided to make Hutchings Street Halloween Central this year. They’re designating at least 10 of the stately Victorians on the tree-lined street as trick-or-treating stops. They’re offering help with decorations (including free pumpkin carving Thursday night). On Halloween, they’ll host a party, with cider, pastries, fancy candy for the adults, a photo booth, and a showing of a classic scary movie.
“We can create just one little place that seems safe,” Dickerson says. “Here is something we can do that might make a difference.”
Dickerson won a small grant for the event from the Grove Hall Trust, a neighborhood-run foundation aiming to help local residents strengthen their community. The Trust was set up by Boston Rising, a nonprofit that helps people chart their own ways out of poverty. Haunted Hutchings hits their sweet spot.
“This is one of those small, really impactful ways to take back a community,” says Talia Rivera, community liaison for the Grove Hall Trust. “This is going to make an important, powerful statement.”
It’s working on Moreland Street, a few minutes away. There, Kim Janey and other members of the Historic Moreland Street Association have thrown Halloween events since 2009: Each year, the neighborhood’s map of safe houses grows.
“Families that didn’t distribute candy are starting to do it,” Janey said. “Before, they felt like it was a waste.” The cycle is reversing itself.
Nobody is kidding themselves that giving kids a few local houses to visit on Hutchings this Halloween is going to bring down H-Block, or any of the other gangs that do their appalling business in the neighborhood. The only way that will happen is if the community unites against them. To do that, neighbors must unite in the first place.
A Haunted Hutchings is as good a place to start as any.