CAMDEN, NJ— Mayor Frank Moran pointed at a pile of mattresses, TVs, buckets and other trash dumped near the corner of Federal and 28th streets in East Camden and shook his head.
“This is unacceptable,” Moran said. “But this has just become acceptable to folks. People just walk by and think nothing.”
Earlier this week, he had stood at the intersection of 34th Street and Westfield Avenue and challenged business owners to keep their storefronts clear of trash and debris.
On Friday morning, the mayor was back in East Camden going door to door to try and challenge that way of thinking for the city’s residents as well.
The mayor was joined by the city’s code enforcement officers, public works employees and members of the city’s fire department to clean up two blocks between Federal Street and Westfield Avenue, and distribute information and materials to help the residents who live there keep the blocks clean and avoid potential code violations.
Friday’s effort was part of Moran’s larger “Inclusive Prosperity” initiative to invest in and transform blighted sections of Camden’s neighborhoods. Moran said Friday he chose to begin with the blocks of 28th Street and Leonard Street because of their history in attracting drug activity along with the amount of trash and pothole complaints the city’s received.
“We’re going door to door and talking to the residents not in a punitive sense, but talking to them about the importance of transforming our city,” Moran said. “We’re going to introduce ourselves, hand out information, trash cans, brooms, and say, ‘This is what we expect of you as a resident of the City of Camden.’”
“Also the underworld in these communities that sort of gravitate to blight and filth — we’re going to let them know we’re not going to tolerate this,” Moran said.
Those who live on the block received packets that featured information on the city’s trash and recycling collection schedule, where the trash should be located to be picked up, what should go in the trash and what should go in the recycling, and how to dispose of items such as e-waste and mattresses.
The city also handed two new trash cans to the residents, and the fire department installed smoke detectors inside homes if needed.
Director of Code Enforcement Luis Ruiz said that the most common code violations in the city are around trash disposal because those who rent are unaware of the collection schedule and rules. On Friday, he said code enforcement officers were there to only educate the residents.
“This is Camden — now that it's coming out of the ashes, we need the residents to do the same thing, to help us come out of those ashes,” said Ruiz, who grew up in Camden and served in the Camden County Police Department before heading the city’s code enforcement office. “The residents have lived in poverty and dirty properties for so long they think that’s the norm. We have to change that as a city, as administrators, as directors.”
For residents on the block, it was the first time they had ever seen so many city workers cleaning the streets, boarding up and painting vacant homes and repairing potholes.
“I think it's good they’re cleaning the block,” said Maria Rivera, a resident of 28th Street for three years. Rivera added that the trash and potholes are constant problem on the street.
Dawn Rodgers has lived on 28th Street for 21 years and said she has never anything like Friday’s efforts. Rodgers described the block as family oriented, with neighbors taking care of the elderly and children.
“We just want positivity and to know that we are important to the city as well ... It’s been changing positively,” Rodgers said.
Another longtime 28th Street resident, Walter Odom, wasn’t so quick to buy-in.
“It’s just cosmetic surgery,” said Odom, who’s lived on the block for 40 years. “They’re not really trying to do nothing for us … just give us a little bit to make us shut up. I’m not that guy.”
Odom said those on the block of 28th Street were like a family, and clean up every day as much as they can.
“From what I’ve seen, a lot blocks already do that, but the news media makes it appear that we don’t do anything. That’s not true,” Odom said.
Moran said he plans to carry out Friday’s operation in all sections of the city. In April, he will also launch his Team Up! Clean Up! Program for the second year, which features 11 clean up events throughout Camden’s neighborhoods and parks.
According to Moran, not only will cleaner neighborhoods result in a better quality of life for Camden’s families, the city can spend upwards of an additional $1 million per year in tipping fees from the illegal dumping the department of public works collects in addition to the nearly $3 million per year the city pays Waste Management to collect household trash and recycling.
“This all part of changing the image of who we are,” Moran said. “And not all, because there are good people who really maintain their properties and storefronts on their blocks and in their communities … it's just a matter of re-energizing folks.”