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Amid specter of violence, reaching out for safeguards

In broad daylight, several people lived the nightmare of being caught in the crossfire of a shooting at Schaffer Village, a housing complex in northwest Buffalo.

A woman dived to the floor and crawled to safety after a bullet from a hail of gunfire came through her office window.

"It was the most horrible experience of my life," said Ruby Culverhouse, an employee of the Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority, who described her brush with death in the summer of 2006.

Her story and others emerged Tuesday during a public meeting on whether residents and employees are safe in Housing Authority homes and offices.

About 50 people attended the meeting in the Central Library. It was an opportunity for many of them to discuss safety concerns they deal with daily.

Complaints ranged from drug dealing in some of the 27 developments owned and operated by the authority to residents feeling unsafe while walking outside at night.

Recently, a suspect in a shooting outside A.D. Price Court's management office near William Street broke into a unit to hide and was arrested by police on drug and weapons charges.

Many of the residents said that it seems as if violence has escalated since the authority disbanded its 26-member member police force to save about $2 million a year.

"Isn't our safety worth more than that?" asked Latefa Bryant, who lives in the Stuyvesant Apartments on Elmwood Avenue, who walks through the building with a hammer in hand for protection.
"People are afraid. They don't leave their apartments. They don't go out after dark," she said. "Now that's a bad situation."

Andre Gilbert, a Kenfield Homes resident, agreed.

"I can't say I'm afraid to go out, but I'm saying I don't go out at night," he said.

Sedita Apartments resident Barbara Smith complained about drug dealers and users congregating in the building, while Barbara Gardener, a Langfield Homes resident for the last five years, said she hears gunshots every day.

Information gathered from the meeting will be reviewed by Housing Authority commissioners, and an action plan to improve security will be developed, said Tenant Commissioner Leonard Williams, chairman of the authority's Public Safety Committee.

Also in attendance at the hearing were Common Council President David A. Franczyk, Housing Authority Chairman Michael Seaman and Commissioners Crystal Rodriguez and Joseph Mascia, as well as authority Executive Director Dawn E. Sanders and Assistant Executive Director Modesto Candelario.

Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson was represented by Chief Donna Barry of B District. She distributed a crime-prevention manual that deals with issues such as rape prevention, safety for children and what to do when being followed.

"I'm here to listen," Barry said. "We're here to serve, and I'm here to help."


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