Nearly 30 years ago — during the summer — Marty Ramirez and his wife bought their home about a block from Northeast High School.
“Then when school started I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness,’” he says.
For years, Ramirez and other area residents have dealt with students — more than the population of some rural Nebraska towns — descending on the streets and sidewalks near their homes before and after school. Groups of students have always picked spots to hang out, sometimes loitering on neighbors’ yards, leaving cigarette butts, damaging property.
It’s gotten better over the years, and it’s gotten worse.
Now, according to several neighbors who came to the Lincoln Board of Education meeting Tuesday to ask for help, it’s gotten significantly worse.
Some residents, nearly all of them retirees, feel they’re being held hostage by students who congregate along Huntington Avenue near 63rd Street, Ramirez told the board.
“It’s escalated to a crisis situation,” he said.
It's a perennial problem for schools such as Northeast, Southeast and Lincoln High that are in residential neighborhoods. Southeast neighbors have, in the past, been vocal about similar concerns.
But Ramirez said his concern is for the homes on streets near Northeast, where groups of students hang out, smoke, leave cigarette butts and other trash. They sit in residents’ driveways, drink alcohol and have urinated on residents’ property, the neighbors said. Some taunt neighbors and have grown increasingly confrontational.
Some neighbors are afraid to go outside, and one property owner has put his rental properties up for sale, residents said.
School officials and the school resource officer said they’ve worked hard to try to alleviate issues in the neighborhood, and not all the young people who gather are students. Some have been kicked out or no longer attend, but gather to see friends.
And not all the students cause problems.
“I think at every school we have a group of students that probably smoke and would like to have the opportunity to be out of class once in a while,” said Principal Kurt Glathar. “It’s not a group of students who decided to go out and make the neighborhood miserable.”
Problems lessened some years ago, after school officials worked with police and city officials to have a bus stop moved from 63rd and Huntington to a corner on school property.
“Since then it’s worked quite well,” Glathar said. “We’ve been able to monitor the bus stop.”
Ramirez said that did help for a while — after one incident with about 70 students blocking traffic near the bus stop — but eventually kids migrated to the middle of the block on 63rd Street, near where a student lives and out of view of the high school.
After school each day two Northeast administrators walk the block and a half to the area to monitor the activity.
Lincoln Police Officer Nate Hill, a 1992 graduate of Northeast and the school resource officer there, said he’s worked hard to reduce problems.
Most kids who gather are good ones who do what he asks and don’t cause problems, though there are exceptions, he said.
Hill parks his cruiser along Huntington around lunchtime. He has issued tickets for littering or alcohol possession, has gotten to know the kids and their schedules and will tell them to get back to school if they’re skipping class. He responds to neighbors’ calls and even gave one neighbor his cell phone number.
He wants to do whatever he can so neighbors don't feel terrorized, but said he also has responsibilities inside the school.
“I feel like (the residents) get more attention than most neighborhoods in Lincoln,” he said. “For me to dedicate one to two hours a day, that’s a lot of time.”
Overall, he said, he feels like the situation has improved, although a confrontation that occurred after a resident’s home was egged seems to have escalated tensions.
Residents say problems have grown, and while they appreciate Hill’s efforts, the problems happen when he can’t be there.
Bob Kirkpatrick, who's lived in the area for many years and whose kids attended Northeast, said kids drive down the street with their tires peeling and block his driveway, sit in the driveway and sometimes drink. Some of the kids are nice, he said, and will move if he asks. Others cause more trouble — and one resident was threatened after he asked kids to move.
“We need to do something,” he said at the meeting. “I’m not scared, but some of the neighbors are. That shouldn’t happen. I hope we can do something.”
A small group of kids gathered around a car in the area after school Tuesday said some kids who gather there cause problems, but most don’t — and some have tried to help.
Zachary Jacoby, a Northeast senior, said he’s taken a shop broom to sweep up cigarette butts in the area.
“It was getting old — there were too many cigarette butts,” he said. “This ain’t the ghetto, so it shouldn’t look like it.”
Kathy Danek, who represents northeast Lincoln on the school board, said she'll organize a meeting of neighbors, school administrators, City Council members and students to address the issue.
Ramirez said he’s especially concerned about the stress and mental anguish for retirees who live in the neighborhood and can't enjoy their homes, yards and retirement. That's unfair to them, he said.
“The principal is trying and the police have been good, but it seems the police’s hands are tied — we can report, but kids are gone before they arrive. It’s not that they haven’t tried, but something has to be done.”