Caring for Northside's elderly can help stop drug abuse

The Northside neighborhood of Chapel Hill is a beautiful place. Many of its residents are now spending their twilight years in the community they helped build. Unfortunately instead of living without worry they have fallen prey to drug users and dealers.

Last week, the Chapel Hill Herald wrote that an 88-year-old woman was arrested for "maintaining a dwelling to keep or sell controlled substances." I can see her porch on Nunn Street from mine on Sunset Drive. She lives near the peninsula of land at the intersection Graham, Whitaker, Sykes, and Nunn Streets which is the heart of the crack trade here in Northside.

[She] is wheelchair-bound and lives in the home, which police say often has been the center of drug sales in the Northside neighborhood. � "[She] was charged after several incidents involving narcotics occurred at her property," [Police Chief] Jarvies said.

Her arrangement is not uncommon in Northside. In their continuing effort to fight the symptoms of drug abuse (and not the cause), the police have changed their target from user/dealers to old folks. Will this change anything, or just sweep the problem from street to street?

These senior citizens need help living. Simple things that we take for granted like getting food from the store or having friends to talk to aren't always easy for them. Many seniors are also disabled and need help with other basic tasks. In several situations drug dealers and/or users provide minimal care in exchange for a place to sell or consume crack cocaine. Even if these seniors don't have such "guests" in their home, they live in a neighborhood increasingly dangerous to them sometimes for no other reason than that they may not have the physical and mental resources to defend and care for themselves.

How can we help the senior citizens of Northside? Could improving their care help them and their community at the same time?

What if an ex-drug dealer or member of the community close to the old folks, known by the users and the dealers, worked to create trust in a new elder care co-op?

Only someone with respect and knowledge could get something done. This won't be solved just by people from the outside of the community or even totally outside of the drug trade. Folks from the inside can fix this...if...they are given the support and resources they need. As long as we continue to patch this serious wound with little band aids it will continue to be infected.

Considering the racist history of North Carolina and the whole of America it is no wonder that many African American folks in Northside do not trust the cops, social workers, or do-gooder whites. The massive suburban sprawl of Chapel Hill is closing in on the Northside community. Sadly it may only be the dangerous crime that happens in Northside that prevents it from gentrification by white developers for white students and white upper middle class home buyers. Hopefully the new zoning law for Northside will help local citizens revitalize this community and make it something more than a drug haven or new suburban sprawl.


If several young men and women were given help to get clean from drugs, paid a living wage, trained, and then organized to go help Northside's seniors they could make a huge difference. It's a difficult proposition because one of the strictest rules of drug rehab is staying away from old associates you had when you were using. It's incredibly easy to slide back into addiction.

It is crucial that support of all the people in Northside be a component of any new solution. Just removing the users and dealers won't keep them away. Other people from outside Chapel Hill will fill the void. Soon a new generation of kids would hit the streets trying to make a dollar and get high.

"She has resisted help from her family and agencies who could provide proper food or health care services," Jarvies said. What are the local cops plans? Who and what are these local social services mentioned in a recent Herald Sun article? Maybe the "agencies" (including the police) need more knowledgeable and trusted people walking the neighborhood getting to know the old folks?

Quality care for the people of Northside NOW!

Brian Russell is an artist living in Northside. He can be reached at drawkward at riseup dot net.



I'd like to follow up a bit on this story as it has connections to The Big Bust of 2004 story.

The 88 year old woman that was mentioned in the Chapel Hill Hearald story linked above, appears to have been moved from her home on Nunn Street. Her home was the same one raided by local police recently as described in the Big Bust Story. I have heard some speculate that the Chapel Hill Police waited on a raid until she could be moved. I only hope she is receiving better care than she did before.

Police are dropping the charges against Ms. Fearrington, who the courts see as helpless in this situation. It's just sad all around.

Thank you for all the heartfelt comments everyone.

I sincerely believe that the best action at this point is to find more long time residents of Northside to participate in this conversation. (online or offline)

We can also be working to find resources (money, food, household goods, people’s time, etc.) to help take care of the elderly. We can all go down and knock on doors with smiles on our faces but it just isn’t that easy. A plan must be carefully worked out.

Anita brings up a very good point about the potential mental condition of some local elderly. It is not my intention to go around or over the residents and/or their loved ones heads imposing my ideas. All I am suggesting really is that we help organize the resources to facilitate a long-term solution.

Again I am very concerned about trust and respect. It takes a long time to develop this. We must be very mindful of the issues of race, class, gender, and power when approaching members of Northside with helping hands.

We can all mean well but if we are not ready to help others achieve WHAT THEY WANT we should not oppose our will (no matter how good) on others.

We are building momentum. Let’s brainstorm more and bring attention to the problems so that they may be worked on.

One of the big unknowns in this particular scenario is how mentally competent the elderly person is. Sometimes older people can be mentally manipulated to distrust their own family members in favor of these con artists or other people who really don't have the older person's best interests at heart. It's a very difficult situation when your own elderly relatives don't trust you, and it's awfully difficult to go through any kind of legal procedure that takes away your loved one's independence and dignity.

I just spoke with Jane Cousins at the Chapel Hill Police department, and anyone who has ideas for helping or who wants to work with the police to assist the elderly Northside residents should contact her at I've also contacted the Orange Co. Department on Aging to identify the social services available to assist these residents.

In my experience, many elderly will go to extremes in order to stay in their home. That definitely seems to be the case in this particular situation. Anything the young people in the neighborhood can do, such as volunteering to pick up groceries or take their neighbors to the grocery, run errands, etc. will make it easier for them to stay at home and stay safe.

Thanks for your comments Mark.

What is the Chapel Hill PD’s “vision for community revitalization in Northside.”? Honestly I have no idea. From my point of view it’s hard to see what the benefits of charging an elderly women are. Shake up her relatives? Shock her into action? Root out into the open senior drug dealers?

If the PD has other creative aspects of there vision I would love to know what they are. [ no sarcasm intended here :-) ]

I know it will be hard to convince teenagers and young adults that working in their neighborhood with senior citizens is better than a new car, jewelry, or some cash. There is no doubt about the vast differences. But creative options can be found. I am convinced of it. This is why young people need to be at the forefront of the change. They know what will work.

I know there are allot people working to make Northside better now. Are there any other residents that would like to chime in? Honestly I feel it’s important we discuss this with more diverse points of views.


Mark, all that's true, and it's gets at the poor or non-existent decision-making skills taught in our schools. But it doesn't take into account the issues of addiction and our community's neglect of our elders.

Thank you for responding Terri. :-)

It is true that the lack of good elder care throughout the world is at epidemic proportions. Sadly, it seems many solutions are for the wealthy. I am afraid we have our greedy HMOs and pharmaceutical companies to blame in part. A very large issue it is...

The reason I find it important that the young people of Northside (and whomever hangs out here but doesn’t actually live here) work with all adults helping the senior citizens is a HOLESTIC one. If one part is neglected then the whole community will feel it. The pattern of suffering and recovery is cyclical. This large circle includes all people through out time.

Again I ask….Who and what are these local social services available to senior citizens in Northside?

Does anyone know?


Also a resident of Northside (and a student at UNC), I had suspected that drug dealers were taking advantage of my elderly neighbors, but until reading this story I wasn't aware of either the extent of this or the damage it's causing. It's disturbing to think that this is happening in what appears to be, at surface, a well-policed, fairly clean neighborhood that is just blocks away from the yuppie heaven of Weaver Street.

I wonder if the students, like myself, who have chosen to live in Northside because they prefer houses over deadening, inhumane housing complexes could help their neighbors do these simple tasks. I don't think student residents of Northside have a very clear understanding of who their neighbors are, the history of the neighborhoods, and their often unwitting role in its gentrification and devleopment. I spent my undergraduate years in Providence, RI, and the university made an effort to educate students about Fox Point, a historically Portuguese neighborhood, so those who did choose to live in or near the neighborhood were respectful of their neighbors. Currently, there seems to be an absence of communication in the neighborhood, and that would be a good first step to prevent problems like this from developing.

Brian, I agree with a lot of what both you and Terri are saying, although I don't think I sympathize with the woman as much as Terri does. Life is hard when you get older (and I know that I don't even know the half of it).

I think that in fairness we should ackowledge that the police are outfitted with the legal and physical tools of law enforcement and that their focus on arrests is logical and appropriate for them. The fact that other social services are needed is not their fault. Indeed, the Chapel Hill PD deserves credit for having some vision for community revitalization in Northside.

None of that takes anything away from your basic point. I think it is also worth talking about a few basic facts of street level drug dealing:

1. Street dealers do not make much money doing their thing.

2. Street dealers see more senior dealers in the operation making serious money (or at least displaying the outward manifestations of serious money - nice cars, jewelry etc).

3. Street dealers see more promise of career advancement in drug dealing than they do in working at McDonald's or a variety of other employment opportunities available to them.

If you understand the above three points, then you understand a lot of the problem.


Thanks for your posting. I've spent the past several years trying to figure out how to help my grandparents/parents lead somewhat interesting, safe lives. All the solutions available to my middle class family are quite expensive, mostly humiliating, and always depressing. Our society in general has no good strategies for aging. For the Northside residents, the problem seems even more overwhelming. Why should an older person have to leave her home simply because she is old? Home is safety and it's where she has the greatest opportunity for staying mentally engaged and emotionally grounded. The non-home alternatives, especially here is Chapel Hill, are designed for invalids or for the wealthy. This ladies involvement with drugs shouldn't be seen as a crime--she was only responding to our society's criminal treatment of our elderly citizens.

I'm not sure about using young people from the community to find alternatives though. It's the middle aged folks in the community, those who can (but are afraid to) see themselves in the elderly, who I think would have the greatest chance of being successful.



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