A woman whose family opened a pizza restaurant in what proved to be a scary Seattle neighborhood decided to appeal to the City Council for help but found her opportunity ticking away quickly.
For months, people have been raving about Italian Family Pizza, which opened last summer at Madison Street and Boren Avenue in Seattle.
What they didn’t tell me is that you get a floor show with your pie — thanks to the clients of the Therapeutic Health Services (THS), a methadone clinic a few blocks away.
The first time I visited Italian Family Pizza, owner Steven Calozzi bolted out from behind the pizza ovens to chase a man who had stolen the restaurant’s sandwich board and taken off down the street.
That was nothing, said his wife, Jennifer.
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Before they even opened, they found a couple sleeping in their side doorway. After they were rousted, the man came back and threatened to stab Steven with a used syringe. The woman threw up on their stoop and spit at Jennifer.
A fine how-do-you-do.
Not long after, Steven opened the back door and faced a man who came after him with a knife. Steven fought him off with a broom handle.
The last straw came a few weeks ago, when the Calozzis’ 17-year-old son — a student at O’Dea High School and a member of its cross-country team — was held up at gunpoint by a man the clinic verified was one of its clients.
They have filed a report with the police and called the clinic to complain. They even drove around Seattle University the other morning, after their son spotted his robber while running through campus. I probably would have done the same thing.
Last Monday, Jennifer took time off from work to attend the Seattle City Council meeting and ask for help.
It was a waste of time.
She was allowed one minute to speak, about a problem she’s been dealing with for months, before they cut the mic.
“I don’t know why no one is patrolling these blocks coming from the facility …,” she said after the mic went dead.
“Thanks, Miss Calozzi,” Councilmember Bruce Harrell said, dismissing her.
“ … and why I am left to fight off all these people day in and day out?”
This same City Council has spent hours talking about whether to turn public land over to homeless people. But they can give only one minute to a business owner who pays $17,000 a month in federal, state, city and employment taxes. A family with a 17-year-old kid who had a gun pressed to his chest by a guy who helped himself to a gold cross and chain from the boy’s neck.
All within blocks of City Hall.
The other day, Gov. Jay Inslee announced executive actions aimed at preventing the overprescription of pain pills and improving treatment availability for people dealing with opioid addiction.
But what about the people who are dealing with the people dealing with opioid addiction?
We have a homeless problem, and we have a drug problem. And they have both intersected at the corner of Madison and Boren.
I called Councilmember Tim Burgess to tell the story Jennifer Calozzi wasn’t allowed to tell the council.
“We hear constant complaints from people who live in that neighborhood,” he said. He suggested that the Calozzis can get involved in their community council, or talk to the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, or they can ask council members to encourage the police to pay more attention to that area.
Done. Did that. Tried.
There was nothing else for Burgess to say, other than to promise that he would call Jennifer Calozzi. And he did.
I finally spoke to Norman Johnson, the CEO of THS, who took “total responsibility” for what has been happening to the Calozzis. The clinic’s 800 clients are expected to follow a strict code of conduct, “but it only takes two to create an issue,” Johnson said.
The clinic has had to solve similar problems with a Starbucks (that closed) and the McDonald’s (which is scheduled to close next year).
The clinic — which dispenses methadone from 6 to 11:30 a.m. daily — employs three “community relations” people who patrol the neighborhood until 2:30 p.m., well after the last client has left.
But the person who would check in with Italian Family Pizza didn’t do so until the Calozzis had been threatened, spit at, barfed on, almost stabbed and robbed.
“He blew this one,” Johnson said of the community-relations person. “And we will do whatever we can do to make sure their business is not impacted by our clients.”
I appreciate the sentiment, and I hope Johnson and his staff follow through.
But I also hope city and state leaders see Italian Family Pizza’s experience as food for thought.
While states and cities spend millions of dollars and thousands of hours trying to get people off drugs and into shelters, there are many hardworking citizens dealing with the day-to-day of these epidemics with their own time and money.
They’re scrubbing stoops, fighting off attackers and trying to forget the feel of a gun against their chests, all the while keeping their compassion intact and anger in check.
That is a struggle all its own.