When the Poconos feel like home

Mortgage Foreclosures. Falling apart homes. Unemployment and underemployment. Racial tensions. Unsupervised kids.

Gun violence.

All this sound familiar? Of course it does. But, I am not talking about Philly here, I am talking about... the Poconos.

The Inquirer reported today that in the new developments in the Poconos, there is a fair amount of violence, and what they term as gang activity. Forgetting for a moment the gang stuff, because I believe nothing gets a reporter going like the possibility of bloods and crips, and I think we can learn a lot from what is going on in the Poconos.

When New Yorkers and Philadelphians want to get away from the noise and crowds, they often go to the Pocono Mountains.

It's a tourist-friendly place of forests and streams and lakes, a place where you can play a round of golf, take in a show, angle for trout, or simply lose yourself on a country road.

A place where a Crip or a Blood would seem... out of place.

Yet they are here: gang members from New York and its suburbs who authorities say have taken up residence in some of the private, gated communities of the Poconos, where they can stake out new drug turf with little interference from municipal or state police.

In a different life, I worked on a study/investigation of mortgage foreclosures in Monroe County, and spent quite a lot of time up there. So, I sort of know the story behind the story, and I think it translates to Philly pretty well.

Quick summary: Lots of people, especially from NYC, started moving to the Poconos as a cheap, suburban alternative to NYC. They were told the commute was not that long, and a train was being built. They were told to ignore their feelings of unease at the closing table when things did not seem right, and bought houses they could not afford. Middle class families with two working parents had to adjust as one parent had to try and find a local job (good luck), or else have their kids unsupervised from 5AM (when the line of buses start heading to the City on 1.5 hour-plus ride) to 8 or 9pm. Schools became overcrowded. Many houses were built in a "wild-west" environment where home builders cut corner after corner, resulting in homes almost instantly falling apart. Loans, which were too high to begin with, started going up and up with rising interest rates. Home after home was going into foreclosure. And Monroe County, Pennsylvania, earned the distinction as the only County in Pennsylvania with a higher foreclosure rate than Philadelphia. A development like Pocono Country Place brings back memories... memories of being stunned that home after home after home in a gated community was going into foreclosure.

And, now, of course, comes the violence.

Let's be clear about the context here. The people moving to Monroe County were buying homes, and generally had semi-decent jobs. These were people who by Philly standards might be middle-class, at least at first. Not exactly your typical incubator for gangs or violence.

(I do not pretend to know exactly what is going on up there in terms of actual gang affiliation, but, again I strongly suspect the gang influence is strongly overhyped. If Ray and I beat up MDC and Caeteanus, and call ourselves the Crips, does that make it so? I digress.)

But, in any case, when I was up there, talking to families, escaping violence was a big reason parents made the move. (The crooked developers fed on their fears, with marketing videos that literally pieced in clips of people being shot from Boyz 'N the Hood.) The reality is that the only people who could potentially be committing these crimes are the children of the well-intentioned mothers and fathers who moved out of NYC to avoid this exact outcome. Remember, these are gated communities in the middle of nowhere. You have to have had at least some significant amount of money to get there in the first place.

Yet, now, the violence is there irregardless? Why? Because while you might be able to escape the geography of crime for a while, in the end, in America, violent crime develops and thrives from certain root causes. And, like in Philadelphia, the only way the crime is going to go away permanently is to deal with these root causes.

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