Reporter: Its 9 AM in the Tremont section of the Bronx. An army of orange descends on a set of concrete steps tucked away just off Jerome Avenue. They’re picking up trash and in the process trying to make this step street a little more inviting to neighborhood residents like Eric Ameyu who says he doesn’t like to come here at night. (Read morebelow for the full transcript)
Eric: Sometimes when you come down here you feel it. You feel like, yeah, it’s scary. It’s scary to come down this side in the night. That’s how I just feel about it.
Reporter: These workers are not a part of the Department of Sanitation. Instead, each one is with a group called Bronx Community Solutions, sentenced to community service for committing misdemeanors like drug possession, petty theft, or vandalism. Instead of paying a fine or spending time in jail, they’re responsible for sprucing up this Bronx step street.
Crew Member: Look at it all the graffiti and all this stuff, it’s not right, it’s not right...
Reporter: Eddie Melendez is serving the last of a three day community service sentence. Melendez says cleaning the neighborhood is the first step towards revitalizing this area.
Crew Member (Eddie Melendez): If it was more clean we would bring more people into the Bronx and more business and that’s what the neighborhood needs now, ‘cause we need jobs and we need opportunity. If it’s clean more business come into the Bronx.
Reporter: Every year eleven thousand offenders work on a variety of community improvement projects organized by Bronx Community Solutions. Director Aubrey Fox says the group started sending its crew to clean step streets in response to complaints from neighbors.
Aubrey Fox: If a place feels clean they feel confident, they feel secure, and I think our goal is to give residents a sense of security about their step street.
Reporter: There are 94 step streets in NYC. Some say the reason so many look the way they do is that there is no single city agency responsible for them overall. So in places like Tremont community organizers say these step streets would otherwise go overlooked.
Aubrey Fox: Our community service crews help fills gaps in the services the Department of Sanitation is able to provide. We work closely with them to identify which step streets need to be cleaned and to go back as often as we need to, to keep them clean.
Reporter: Ultimately both the organizers and the defenders working with Bronx Community Solutions hope to hand off responsibility to the people who live here.
Crew Member (Eddie Melendez): I hope you know that doing this today would help everybody to open their mind, and make them come outside to clean their own neighborhood, because if you don’t do it nobody else will.
Reporter: Lily Jamali, WNBC News…
Friday, July 13, 2007
Getting The Word Out
One message we keep receiving from community members and stakeholders is that although community service crews can make a real impact on local conditions (especially by filling gaps in regular city services), the impact doesn't last if community groups and residents don't take responsibility for keeping things clean and safe. It's one reason we always try to make our projects visible and explain their purpose. We're also hoping that publicity can amplify our message. We recently produced a transcript of a video piece by Lily Jamali that's available on the WNBC website (you can view the video here) so I thought I would post it here.