3,000 help city with yard work

Cleanup volunteers tackle delinquent housing debris as part of fifth fall effort

October 10, 2004|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

As the fog lifted yesterday morning, so up came all sorts of trash from neighborhoods across Baltimore as part of the fifth fall citywide cleanup drive.

In 177 city neighborhoods, more than 3,000 volunteers took part in the event, which focused on reducing the backlog of 5,000 vacant housing yards covered in debris.

"Government doesn't make the trash, so we got a job to do," Mayor Martin O'Malley said behind a row of buildings on the 2000 block of Edmondson Ave. He was joined by a small army of helpers wearing rubber-coated yellow gloves who trimmed back trees and weeds, raked up leaves and broken glass and swept walkways.

The event was part of an effort by the city to try to clean every dirty vacant property. In the past two weeks, city crews have cleared 500 lots from the list. Four city agencies are working with the housing department to eliminate the rest by this time next year.

O'Malley said he has hired three private detectives to find the properties' delinquent owners. Fines of $300 are being imposed on the owners to defray the cleanup cost.

On top of that, O'Malley said, "We have to break out of the culture of excuses," referring to a community's responsibility to care for its own neighborhoods.

The message motivated volunteers to step forward yesterday.

"I'm giving back a little because I've been taking," said Kenneth Clark, 48. He lives in Reservoir Hill as part of the I Can't We Can program for substance abusers.

The formidable task of brightening the streets didn't discourage him. "I feel better about myself when I'm doing something. If I don't care about me, how can I care about you?" said Clark.

Another nonprofit group to participate was the Living Classrooms Foundation, which provides education and job training to at-risk youth. It has a crew of 35 that cleans up city alleys and delinquent housing year-round.

Robert Easter, 45, who lives in Owings Mills, said he works a "minimum of five days a week, every week" as a supervisor in the foundation's cleanup effort, Project Serve.

"Cleaning every day gets to be monotonous. But when older people say they've been trying for years to do the same thing, it's not necessarily the praise, but it's the feeling of enjoyment that we're making a difference" that motivates him, Easter said.

"Every day we clean, others get out there to join us. If just for one day," the help is appreciated, he said.

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