Business, Central New York, Community, Poverty

Syracuse group hopes to remove “homeless” label from its neighborhood

The West Onondaga Street Association is making an effort to restore their neighborhood and improve the quality of life. (c) 2017 Brooke Meenachan

By Brooke Meenachan SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – One organization plans to repaint a bridge that leads into its neighborhood as a sign of what’s to come; an effort to restore the neighborhood and improve the quality of life.

The bridge that crosses over West Onondaga Street reads “Mission District” on one side and “Lives Change Here” on the other.

The Rescue Mission Alliance painted the bridge for the organization’s 125th anniversary five years ago.

Trash, graffiti and homeless people line the blocks of West Onondaga Street.

West Onondaga Street used to be one of Syracuse’s finest neighborhoods, lined with mansions and elm trees. Some of the mansions still stand, but most are run-down and vandalized. Others were demolished and low-income housing was built in their place.

“You think you should be afraid to come down here and that’s absolutely not true,” said West Onondaga Street business owner Kim Vinciguerra.

Vinciguerra is also a member of the West Onondaga Street Association, a group working to change the way people view their neighborhood.

President of the group, Robb Bucklin, has lived in the neighborhood for 26 years. He says the “Mission District” is the wrong name for the neighborhood.

“I don’t think it’s fair that people view us as the homeless side of town,” he said. “We have so much more history than just being a homeless neighborhood.”

Since forming a few years ago, the group has helped limit the amount of vacant homes and store fronts. All of them are filled, but one.

“We’re here to make sure that whatever we do it’s meant to be inclusive and to basically lift the neighborhood and by lifting the neighborhood, we hope to life the people that live here,” Bucklin said.

The neighborhood is full of people with diverse backgrounds. The painting of the bridge will signify that, representing unity and diversity using different colors.

Not only are they trying to change the business and social side of the neighborhood, they’re also trying to change the landscaping.

What was once a water fountain is now covered with dirt and overgrown shrubs at the end of the 700 block of West Onondaga Street.

Paul Harris, who works for a nearby nonprofit, has plans to turn the area into a public plaza.

“When you take a vacant land that’s just sitting there and it’s collecting litter and it’s being vandalized and you turn it into something positive and useful, that brings social benefits that can completely turn around a neighborhood and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

The public plaza will include a water feature, a farmers market and a place to watch outdoor movies.

The grou[ says more business will be opening soon, including a restaurant and a few more nonprofits. A micro-brewery might also come to the neighborhood.

Plans are also in the works to clean up underneath the “Mission District” bridge. Bucklin says the West Onondaga Street Association is teaming up with Syracuse University to make that happen.

The West Onondaga Street Association is trying to change the way people portray its neighborhood. (c) 2017 Brooke Meenachan

The West Onondaga Street Association has plans to repaint the "Mission District" bridge. (c) 2017 Brooke Meenachan

A neighborhood nonprofit has plans to create a public plaza at the end of the 700 block. (c) 2017 Meenachan