4 volunteers were at risk, mayor says He suggests city crew blocked alley cleanup out of health concern

'Unsafe and unsanitary'

Effort was in response to article describing dangers children face

October 11, 1998|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jim Haner contributed to this article.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke suggested yesterday that city workers might have been trying to protect four Baltimore college students when the workers frustrated a volunteer alley-cleanup project.

"I could see sanitation workers coming out and being concerned that young people could end up picking up dirty needles and getting rat bites," Schmoke said. "I don't think they were saying, 'Don't help out.' "

The city, Schmoke said, is eager for volunteers and has a program to match them with activities. But volunteers must coordinate their plans with the city so that public works employees can help.

"The young people have exposed themselves to unsafe and unsanitary conditions," he said.

Four college students, three from Coppin State College and one from Morgan State University, cleaned an alley clogged with trash, dead rats, old clothing and needles in the 2300 block of E. Chase St., near Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary School.

The students had read an article in The Sun about the problems in the neighborhood, a place of abandoned rowhouses and drug dealing, which children must walk by to get to school.

One volunteer, Benjamin Hall of Coppin State, said he contacted a city community-assistance program earlier last week to see whether a truck could pick up the refuse, but he was told one would not be available until January.

The students decided to rent a truck for $80. Friday, they began bagging the trash and hauling the bags into the truck. The students were joined by addicts and neighborhood residents who applauded their efforts. But Department of Public Works employees arrived and asked them to stop, telling the students that they were trespassing.

"That's our job," Warren Branch, a work coordinator for the department, told the students.

The volunteers hauled away 60 trash bags. However, they met resistance when they attempted to dump the garbage at the Bowleys Lane sanitation yard.

Workers said they needed a permit to dump or permission from city officials. A more senior staffer arrived and gave the students permission.

Michael V. Seipp, executive director of the nonprofit Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, says he wishes the students had called him.

"We do cleanups every day with the Department of Public Works and in four years have never had a problem," said Seipp.

Seipp said the city gives his group two trucks four days a week, and they go to neighborhoods in East Baltimore, cleaning streets and boarding up houses.

"We just were in that area two months ago and did a massive cleanup," he said, noting that as fast as the trash is hauled away, more appears.

Police, school officials and public works officials met Friday to develop plans to alleviate some of the community's problems.

The principal of Rayner Browne said a flurry of cleaning has taken place in the area recently.

"I have no doubt that the city is serious about it, and I have no doubt that they are serious about cleaning up this neighborhood," said Doris Washington-Graham. "It is going to take some time to come up with a plan, but what I have seen last] week makes me very hopeful."

Hall said yesterday that he has gotten over what happened the day before. "That's life. Things happen," he said.

He's onto the next project for Mega Man, a campus group formed after the Million Man March in Washington on Oct. 16, 1995. The group plans a Thanksgiving dinner for homeless people.

Schmoke said of the students' efforts, "We would love to have them back."

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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