Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Justice Center coordinates massive, multi-agency clean-up in Brownsville

For as long as anyone can remember, the space behind the fence in the Langston Hughes parking lot has been a dump site. For well over a decade, a homeless man had made it his encampment and accumulated literally tons of trash and debris behind it. The site has been an eyesore and health hazard in the community. It smelled of urine and feces, children in the adjacent playground were afraid to go near it, and no one would park in the spots nearby because the man was known to vandalize cars. Even though everyone wanted it gone, there was no a quick fix. The dumping was actually on private property (behind a Belmont Avenue sneaker store), but the property owner didn't have access because NYCHA had put up a fence and he had no rear entry. The lock on the fence had long rusted over and Sanitation could not gain access. As far as NYPD jurisdiction, while the parking lot was policed by PSA 2, the dumping site was technically precinct turf. There was also great concern from all parties about how the homeless man would react if the site were cleaned which had stalled previous efforts.

The solution to this problem required a commitment from all city agencies involved to work very closely together. Luckily in Brownsville's community district 16, we have phenomenal partners committed to going above and beyond to get the job done. This project would not have been possible without NYCHA and Langston Hughes Property Management, Dept. of Sanitation BK 16, NYPD's 73rd precinct and PSA 2, Common Ground's homeless services outreach team, and Ms. Viola Greene-Walker, our Community Board 16 District Manager.

At the end of the day, the project was a success on multiple levels. Not only did it show us that no job is too big if we work together, it removed a huge symbol of blight and disinvestment from the community. Throughout the morning, dozens of Langston Hughes residents stopped by to express their excitement and relief that the site was being cleaned. One even leaned out the top floor of the 21-story development to shout, "Yay! It's finally being cleaned. Thank you!"   

The clean-up was an initiative of the Justice Center's Belmont Revitilization Project and Operation Toolkit. Operation Toolkit takes a problem-solving approach to tackling discrete neighborhood problems, particularly  hotspots and conditions of disorder that impact public safety. To learn more or to suggest an Operation Toolkit project, contact Alanah at 347-404-9587.

Before the cleanup. The dumping measured 22 feet wide, 4 feet deep and between 6-9 feet tall.
NYCHA's welder was the first to arrive at the site.
Soon after, NYCHA property management, NYPD conditions officers from the 73rd precinct, and Common Ground street outreach workers  arrived
along with the Department of Sanitation BK16 cleaning and field officers.
NYPD was effective in engaging the homeless individual to leave the site voluntarily and without incident. 
After NYPD used their bolt cutter, the welder began to dismantle the fence. 
The garbage was so compacted it did not fall with the fence.
DSNY surveyed the site as their sanitation truck arrives.
The first half of the fence comes down.
And the clean-up begins. 
First to go were the corrugated metal and wrought iron fences. 
NYCHA, NYPD, DSNY and Justice Center staff look on.
NYCHA provided two "front-loader" bobcats to assist with the clean-up.
DSNY strategize with their district superintendent.
It got a lot dirtier before it got cleaner.
Ready for the second half of the fence to come down.
NYCHA and DSNY survey the second half. 
Like the first half, it was so compact it did not fall.
NYCHA hard at work breaking up the debris. 
The NYCHA Borough Administrator for Property Management and BK16's Cleaning Officer track progress.
At one point 3 cats ran out of the site.
A few rats, and many, many roaches. 
More than 6 tons of debris were removed.
NYCHA returned after this to sweep the premises and exterminate, DSNY came through with their street sweeper and NYCHA will power wash the wall.

NYCHA will not replace the fence so the dumping problem does not recur. The Justice Center will work with the property owner to finish cleaning the site, scrape and repaint the wall, and monitor it to prevent future dumping. The Justice Center, property owner, and NYCHA will develop a project to permanently reclaim and beautify the space - possibly planter boxes of flowers and a mural. 

Stay tuned for more updates!

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