In the Kruisstraat in Eindhoven, cozy and grim are no contradictions. Take an average nice summer evening at the weekend: the long street full of shawarma and kebab shops, hairdressers, bell shops and hookah cafes is busy. The sweet smell of shisha predominates. On the full terraces are mainly men. They like to watch passing girl groups of teens and twenties put on their make-up, carry expensive handbags, and take selfies.
Then the buzz is drowned out by the sound of an expensive car speeding down the long street. Nobody seems to pay attention to it, even though the Kruisstraat is a bicycle street. For the rest of the evening more expensive cars will race down the street, driven by young men.
Several people get in and out of the same car in a short time in the parking lot; an indication that drugs are being dealt there. When the evening has turned into night, a homeless person stands peeing against a facade. It can just happen that that same night a fight breaks out in the Kruisstraat. In the summer there are quite a few fights a week, the police say. Stabbings also happen a few times a year – last year one with a fatal outcome.
It seems as if all the problems that a large city like Eindhoven can have come together at Kruisstraat and Woenselse Markt, the adjacent square. Here, in the Oud-Woensel district, close to the city center, there is a lot of drug crime, subversion, money laundering, traffic nuisance, nuisance to addicts and the homeless, illegal room rental and waste problems. Illegal prostitution and fighting and stabbing also contribute to the poor image of the area. A number of the Eindhoven terror suspects who were arrested at the end of last month were arrested near the Kruisstraat.
In about ten years it has changed from a popular shopping street, where parents took their children to the butcher and the baker, to a street that is constantly negative in the news.
At the beginning of this year, the Eindhoven city council argued for a rigorous approach to the problems in the Kruisstraat. The college promised to come up with a plan of action soon. Mayor John Jorritsma had already spoken to King Willem-Alexander about Oud-Woensel and expressed his concerns during the presentation of a manifesto in The Hague by fifteen mayors of large municipalities. In that manifesto, they asked the government for money for vulnerable neighbourhoods. Last May, they made the call again. Whether they will get the money is still the question. We are waiting for the new coalition agreement.
The action plan, which focuses on all of Oud-Woensel, has been in place since this summer. Together with the residents, Eindhoven has thought about fighting crime, the waste problem, reducing the nuisance of the homeless and addicts, the education of the children, traffic, and the shopping and catering offer of the Kruisstraat. The total list of plans has six pages. For example, the municipality wants to deploy extra enforcers and camera surveillance, move two social reception locations to another district, and investigate the possibility of closing Kruisstraat completely to motorized traffic in the evening and at night.
Agent Lenny van Dooren between colleagues Caroline Smits and Jens Raijmakers.
Merlin Daleman’s Photo
Moving after thirty years
Neighborhood officers Caroline Smits and Jens Raijmakers are happy with the plans and pots to combat the problems in ‘their’ neighbourhood, they say when they walk through the Woenselse Markt. Raijmakers: „The Kruisstraat is a many-headed monster, as they said in the city council. But I also see the potential. Look at the variety of cultures. You can already see that very nicely in the products that are sold here at the busy weekly market.”
There are many people here with their own business that have nothing to do with crime
Jan Bardoel street manager
Every few minutes, one of the officers is approached by a passer-by, often a local resident or an entrepreneur. Smits rejoins Raijmakers after she was just shot by an elderly woman. “She said that she and her husband are moving,” says Smits. “They have been living in a side street off Kruisstraat for about thirty years, but she said she is done with it, especially because of the noise nuisance caused by the speeding cars. It’s really a shame she’s leaving, because she’s a very nice resident. But yes, I understand that she wants peace in the last years of her life.”
The police officers have a chat with street manager John Bardoel. On behalf of the municipality, he works together with entrepreneurs from the Kruisstraat to improve the reputation of the street. “There are many people here who have their own business who have nothing to do with crime and are fed up with the poor image of the area,” says Bardoel. He is now working together with Kruisstraat entrepreneurs to make a book with their personal stories. They also think about how they can provide a more varied catering and retail offer.
Merlin Daleman’s Photo
The police officers walk through a side street of the Kruisstraat to a small area with mainly home furnishings stores. There they pause for a moment in front of a Salvation Army reception centre. “One of the causes of the problems in the Kruisstraat is that there are three reception centers for the homeless and addicts close by,” says Raijmakers. “That causes a lot of nuisance, despite the fact that the reception locations do their best to prevent it.” According to Raijmakers, the presence of many addicts on Kruisstraat also ensures that the street continues to exert a great attraction for drug criminals.
Alderman Yasin Torunoglu (Wonen en Wijken, PvdA) and Paul van Hooff, sector head of safety at the municipality, talk about the other causes for the slippage of Kruisstraat via a video link. “Many people with a low education level and low income live in Oud-Woensel, who cannot find their way to the local government, for example to raise problems in the neighbourhood,” says Van Hooff. He also mentions the lack of social cohesion and social control. According to Torunoglu, this has to do with the many different cultures in the district.
Read more about Woensel in Eindhoven: The deeply religious techies sang battle songs and watched attack videos
But certain rural developments are also important causes, says Torunoglu. “For a few years now, the government has been asking municipalities to ensure that people with psychological problems or addictions live independently as much as possible instead of in an institution. These vulnerable people end up in neighborhoods such as Oud-Woensel, with many cheap rental homes. The reorganization of the police [die in 2012 begon en waarbij de 26 regionale politiekorpsen werden gefuseerd] has resulted in a high turnover of community officers in Oud-Woensel, while this district needs officers who know the district, the residents and the entrepreneurs well. Fortunately, we now have them again.” Torunoglu also mentions the decentralization of government tasks in 2015, which made municipalities financially difficult. “As a result, less attention was paid to vulnerable neighbourhoods.”
Merlin Daleman’s Photo
As early as the summer of 2019, the municipality started “pulling the weeds out of the garden,” says Van Hooff, “to make way for the development of the district.” Since that summer, the municipality, in collaboration with the police and the tax authorities, among others, has regularly carried out major checks in Kruisstraat. Young drivers of expensive cars, for example, are stopped to check whether they have a debt with the tax authorities or outstanding fines with the police. Often that is the case; this usually involves tens of thousands of euros per inspection day. And every time several expensive cars are seized. Buildings are also regularly checked to identify, for example, mala fide entrepreneurs and slum landlords.
Making young people more resilient
The action plan for Oud-Woensel states that the police actions will be continued. But Eindhoven also wants to combat crime in the neighborhood in other ways. A separate plan for the (preventive) fight against subversion states how the municipality wants to prevent young people from the neighborhood from being drawn into organized crime. Fifteen possibilities are formulated. The municipality has already started with one of these, the Youth Coach Foundation, in Woensel-Zuid, the district that Oud-Woensel falls under. Employees of the foundation go into the neighborhoods and make contact with the vulnerable children and young people there. The aim is to increase the social resilience of children and young people.
Eindhoven has received 1.63 million euros from the cabinet for the implementation of the plan against subversion. The government has also made 20 million available from the Public Housing Fund to build, make sustainable and refurbish homes in Woensel-Zuid, and to beautify the public space. But aren’t more government funds needed to carry out the long list of plans? Yes, say the local police officers, the alderman, and the safety sector head, but these jars are a good start.
District police officer Raijmakers: “You hope that if Oud-Woensel is refurbished, it will become a more attractive neighborhood to live in, so that more non-vulnerable people will live.” Torunoglu: “As a municipality, we are working hard to get more money from The Hague to solve the problems in Oud-Woensel.”
A 65-year-old man who lives near Kruisstraat helps the two police officers for free, he says on the balcony of his apartment. From this spot, he sees drug deals being closed every day. He takes pictures of that and sends them to Smits or Raijmakers. He tells his name but does not want to see it again in NRC, afraid of reprisals.
“My wife and I just see them down here with scales. The nice thing is that criminals always look around, but never up.”
The man has lived in this neighborhood for 27 years. He has seen Kruisstraat ‘running backwards’. “Look, I like grey. A raw edge is allowed. But this?” However, moving is not an option for him. “Am I leaving here?! No no no no no. Driving the criminals out of here is my job. They don’t win. I win. Point.”
Also read how the same problems play out in The Hague: Living in a neighborhood with cannabis cultivation, blaring car alarms and household goods on the street
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of October 14, 2021