Volunteers catalog contents of Highlandtown’s alleys

Written by on July 9, 2014 in Neighborhood News - No comments
The general quality of alleys can correlate to quality of life. - Photo by Erik Zygmont

The general quality of alleys can correlate to quality of life. – Photo by Erik Zygmont

Twenty-three condoms, 15 mattresses and 65 bottles.

Seven needles, 15 condoms and 33 dead rats.

Seventeen mattresses, 176 bottles and 77 pieces of construction material.

The trash in Highlandtown’s alleys tells some of its less pleasant stories: illegal dumping, poor sanitation and possibly prostitution.

These particular inventories, a small sampling of a month or so’s worth of trash, come from alleys behind the 100 and 200 blocks of N. Dean St., the 3400-3900 blocks of Mt. Pleasant Ave., and the 3200-3700 blocks of Leverton Ave. respectively.

The inventories were taken as part of a larger Highlandtown alleys project, a survey and clean-up initiative of the Southeast Community Development Corporation and a team of AmeriCorps volunteers from the National Civilian Community Corps in May and June.

The NCCC team, called Buffalo 4, provided seven weeks of alley cleaning and support to Baltimore Highlands and Highlandtown residents and businesses near selected residential and commercial blocks.

The blocks included 3200, 3300, 3400 and 3700 Leverton Ave.; 3400, 3500, and 3600-3900 Mount Pleasant Ave.; 3400-3500 E. Baltimore St.; 3400-3500 Eastern Ave.; 3700-3800 Benefit St. (behind 3700-3800 Eastern Ave); 100-200 N. Dean St.,  400 S. Dean St.; and 3600 Esther Pl.)

Using a 20-item checklist, Buffalo 4 cataloged every piece of trash they found—1,744 total—from bedding to hazardous waste to weeds. The team recorded data weekly for each alley, highlighting the dates and streets associated with the most trash.

Agatha So, a community organizer with the Southeast CDC, said the organization obtained a grant to bring in AmeriCorps volunteers because they had heard from many Highlandtown neighbors struggling to address the illegal dumping issue.

“Construction debris was a problem. So was trash from vacating tenants and absentee landlords,” So said.

The volunteers collected trash (including trash that was bagged), bulk items and litter, and interviewed residents affected by the alleys. They also handed out flyers to residents and merchants and gave away trash can lids with code enforcement and trash and recycling information.

According to the Buffalo 4 and Southeast CDC data, there were three forms of illegal dumping: residential debris (abandoned bulk trash items like mattresses), construction materials (often brought in from outside of the neighborhood, according to So) and automotive waste (apparently of commercial origin).

“We found a lot of construction debris. When we were cleaning an alley, a worker on a construction truck even asked if they could use our dumpster for their stuff,” said AmeriCorps volunteer Francisco Orellana.

“A lot of the construction people know where to dump [legally] but they just don’t want to pay the fee,” he added.

The team cataloged more than 140 pieces of construction material (77 pieces from the Leverton Ave. alleys alone).

Orellana said the team also found sofas, TVs, mattresses, and chairs.

“We found more residential bulk trash near the beginning and end of the month, when people were moving in or out,” he observed

The team also cleaned up tires (17 from behind the 3800 block of Benefit St. over the course of seven weeks), used condoms, and hypodermic needles.

“Some even still had heroin in them,” said Orellana, adding that the team reported what they found but noted that illegal drugs and prostitution were not the primary focus of their work.
Nor were rats, although the team found 56 of those. Orellana said nearby vacant houses and yards and the lack of lighting in the alleys likely contributed to making the alleys havens for prostitution.

He added that while many residents had a trash can, a number used only garbage bags, and many did not use lids with their cans, which only exacerbated the vermin problem.

After the team’s work concluded in the third week of June, Buffalo 4 made presentations on their findings, and recommendations to local groups including the Highlandtown Community Association, the Baltimore Highlands Neighbors, the Highlandtown Block Ambassadors, the Department of Public Works and the Southeast CDC.

The team’s recommendations included educating the residents about their proper disposal of trash and bulk trash.

“Many we talked to did not know about bulk trash or how to get them to come,” Orellana  said.

The team made fifty calls to Baltimore 311 for bulk trash while they were in Baltimore.

Orellana noted that many neighbors were also not recycling. If they did, perhaps their trash volume would be reduced, he said.

Other recommendations, Orellena said, included alley sweeping on trash days, additional trash pickups, and the city giving out more citations for illegal dumping of all kinds.

Agatha So said the Southeast CDC plans to reconnect with all groups who heard the National Civilian Community Corps presentation, as well as to re-present the team’s recommendations to the community.

“We plan to share the data and findings so that the data and recommendations don’t just sit with us, but are accessible to community groups.  It will be posted on the Southeast CDC website in the future,” So said.

Brian Sweeney, president of the Highlandtown Community Association, said he couldn’t agree more with the recommendations regarding enforcement.

“It is our intention to use this data to pressure city officials to develop an improved enforcement strategy to hold dumpers accountable,” he said. “We need a prevention strategy. Maybe that means putting up cameras, or teaching residents how to respond when they see someone dumping, or looking for addresses in the dumped materials. The city has got to focus on enforcement, not cleanup.”

Sweeney added that the Highlandtown Community Association would have representatives from DPW and Code Enforcement at their next meeting in September.

As for Highlandtown’s alley prostitution, Sweeney said the association is more than aware of it.

“The police are seen on the corners. The girls, however, tend to work in the shadows,” he said.

“The association is looking to the police vice squad to step up.”

by Danielle Sweeney

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