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Do Something

Be The Next Angela Val

Want to launch your own neighborhood cleanup? Do what Val did in Point Breeze, and what residents in Bella Vista are doing in their community:

  • Contact a private street cleaning agency, like Ready, Willing and Able, which works with formerly incarcerated and homeless men to help them transition to jobs and housing. The cost for a year of cleaning by RWA is about $25,000.
  • Set up a crowdfunding page on a site like GoFundMe, and/or collect funds door to door from neighbors and local businesses.
  • When enough trash bags start being filled, call the Streets Department to send a truck to pick them up.
  • Start celebrating cleaner streets.

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Tell the Mayor to Clean Streets

He promised he would

When Mayor Jim Kenney was candidate Jim Kenney, he pledged to reinstate biweekly street cleaning in Philadelphia. More than two years into his term, he’s still equivocating on the idea.

Let the Mayor know if you want more regular street cleaning where it matters: In neighborhoods, where most of us live.

Email Mayor Kenney here.

 

Citizen of the Week: Angela Val

The Point Breeze resident could have just cleaned the litter on her small block. Instead, she launched a community effort for the whole neighborhood

The Point Breeze resident could have just cleaned the litter on her small block. Instead, she launched a community effort for the whole neighborhood

Before moving to Point Breeze, Angela Val lived in West Philly, near University City. She moved to the Gayborhood, then to Center City, and she had a few different places on the Main Line after that. Needless to say, she has become acquainted with Philadelphia’s litter issue. But Point Breeze stood out among the rest: The litter on the streets was very noticeable––at least to her it was.

But she noticed other residents just walking by the litter, without seeming to notice. There were piles of garbage bags on street corners, and bodega trash and black plastic bags from Beer Town that would blow around as the construction workers, erecting new buildings that are changing the neighborhood, discarded their lunches on sidewalks.

“No matter how long you have lived in some place, no matter how much money you have or don’t have or how old you are,” Val says, “nobody really wants to live in a place where there is a bunch of trash.”

Val, who is chief administrative officer for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, took the time to clean up her block after work and on the weekends, but it was all for naught––what was picked up one evening would somehow return by the next morning. It was endless. But as Val says, “I could sit here and complain, or I could help do something about it.”

She chose the latter.

In December of 2014, Val and her husband began Clean Point Breeze Streets, a community-wide grassroots initiative to tackle an issue that had plagued her community for years. She partnered with Ready, Willing and Able, a non-profit that works to break the cycles of homelessness, addiction and criminal recidivism by providing paid transitional work, occupational training and housing to homeless men.

The business model for this effort is simple: Val collects donations from neighbors, deposits the money and writes a check to Ready, Willing and Able. Once a week, they come to Point Breeze and are paid to help Val and her community pick up trash. What began as a clean up of 10 blocks, expanded last summer to 21 blocks, stretching from Alter St. to Reed St. and from 17th St. to 24th St.

“We, as a community, are not going to live like this anymore,” Val says. “We want new homes and businesses here, but if I were a commercial business, and I saw all the trash on these streets, I wouldn’t want to bring my flower shop or my yoga studio to Point Breeze. We have to clean this up in order to let this neighborhood truly progress.”

Clean Point Breeze Streets is an entirely grassroots effort, initiated with no assistance from city government, despite the city’s Zero Waste and Litter plan, an effort to move Philadelphia toward a zero waste and litter-free future. While beneficial for the downtown and Center City areas, Val believes that the Zero Waste and Litter plan neglects the surrounding neighborhoods.

It wasn’t until Ready, Willing and Able began filling 60 to 70 bags full of trash a week that the city got involved. As the program grew, no longer could the trash fit into a small van, so Val called a city official and said, “Hey, we are doing our part, it’s time for you to do yours.” From then on, a garbage truck has come once a week to collect trash after the weekly pickup, free of charge.

“We, as a community, are not going to live like this anymore,” Val says. “We want new homes and businesses here, but if I were a commercial business, and I saw all the trash on these streets, I wouldn’t want to bring my flower shop or my yoga studio to Point Breeze. We have to clean this up in order to let this neighborhood truly progress.”

“I think the city is now in a position where they are saying, ‘This is an issue and we have to work a little harder to make, not just our downtown, but also our neighborhoods clean and safe,’” Val says. “But that starts with neighborhoods taking the initiative to get that going.”

Trash, however, isn’t the only issue that Point Breeze is trying to overcome.

Point Breeze, by definition, is a gentrifying community: The area is seemingly always under construction, as new homes for young people are built next to brick row homes, where an older generation has lived for years. According to Val, there is a lot of ‘us and them’ going on among neighbors, but at the end of the day, trash is bringing the community together.

Val says that she could probably hire someone to clean her block, but that would do little for her community––a community that, as a gentrifier, is already a little weary of her. Instead, Val walks her two dogs down the street and as neighbors stop to pet them, she introduces herself and brings up Clean Point Breeze Streets; she goes door to door, asking for donations and trying to bring people together through an effort to clean their community.

“No matter how long you have lived in some place, no matter how much money you have or don’t have or how old you are,” Val says, “nobody really wants to live in a place where there is a bunch of trash.”

Her neighbors come to her with cash or leave donations in her mailbox, while the program’s GoFundMe has raised over $6,000 (of a $22,000 goal). Every little bit is impactful and Val says she treats a five-dollar donation like she would a five-hundred-dollar donation. People from other areas donate to support this effort, and Val has met with other community leaders to get similar programs started elsewhere. Inspired by her efforts, the Bella Vista Neighbors Association has launched its own crowdfunding campaign for neighborhood street cleaning.

Val said that is becoming normal to pick up trash, but there are final steps that would complete the circle for her: First, she would like to see the program find a home in a community association of some sort so that it can be maintained for years to come. But, perhaps more importantly, she would like this to become a permanent employment opportunity for a few of the men that work for Ready, Willing and Able, which is only a temporary program.

“They pay you a wage, they show you how to keep a savings account, a checking account or how to write a check,” Val says. “But when they graduate from the program, you don’t want them to go back to what put them in that program. They need a job.”

Val says the neighborhood together has been coming together in other ways, too. Last summer, Point Breeze had a beer fest in the streets and Val said that  almost all of the community enjoyed it, even though some of the older residents had no idea what a beer fest even was. As for the trash, Val says one day last summer, she was looking out her window when she saw a kid throw a bottle on the ground. Frustration erupted inside of her, but she was quickly calmed when her neighbor––an older woman––open her window and yelled, “Hey! pick that up.”

It was a small victory, granted. Nonetheless, it felt like a crowning achievement for Val.

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil posts. We want to be a communal space. But that doesn’t mean you have a First Amendment right to be an idiot. Send us an insulting, offensive and/or wildly off-topic comment and not only will we refrain from posting it -- we will laugh at you before we hit delete.

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