City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson was on hand at Ralph Brooks Tot Lot playground at 20th and Tasker to announce the beginning of a new street cleaning program in Point Breeze on Monday. The program started that day. He was also joined by representatives from the Urban Affairs Coalition and Ready, Willing and Able, the nonprofit contracted to conduct the street cleaning.
“Residential street cleaning on this scale is a first for Philadelphia in the 21st century,” Johnson said at the announcement. “Now it’s finally happened.”
Johnson’s street cleaning initiative is separate from Mayor Jim Kenney’s, who, in his recent budget address, pledged to seek increased funds for street cleaning.
For Johnson’s initiative, residents can expect to see a team of six men from Ready, Willing and Able work Monday through Friday, cleaning every residential block in the neighborhood over the course of the week in sections. Residents will not be required to move their cars, and the cleaning will not be mechanical. It will consist of workers sweeping with brooms and brushes. The organization has been cleaning some residential blocks in a north-central portion of Point Breeze since 2016, via a grassroots fundraising effort called Clean Point Breeze Streets and led by Point Breeze resident Angela Val. The new, expanded program will be funded by the City of Philadelphia. Diversified Community Services will continue to manage street cleaning on the Point Breeze Avenue commercial corridor through a separate contract with the city.
The cleaning contract, initially funded for one year, will build on the success of the existing program and dramatically expand the radius of blocks being cleaned. The previous street-cleaning program covered only 21 blocks – Alter Street to Reed Street and from 17th Street to 24th Street. The street-cleaning service area will be bounded by Alter Street on the north, Snyder Avenue on the south, the west side of Broad Street on the east, and 24th Street on the west side.
However, Johnson called the street cleaning initiative “a long-term project.”
“As long as I’m in City Council,” he said, “I will continue to advocate for the funding to keep this project moving forward.”
The cost of the street-cleaning program is estimated to be around $190,000 for a year, according to Johnson’s press secretary, Kaitlyn Manasterski. Some $200,000 was allocated for the initial year.
Johnson was asked whether he would accept mechanical street cleaning in the future if the mayor chose to hold a street cleaning pilot in Point Breeze, which would require residents to move their cars.
“Yes,” he said. “If we move our cars for block parties, sure, we can move our cars for cleaning up our streets.”
As 2019 City Council elections near, Johnson warned that he wasn’t merely looking for a cute photo-op.
“This is not a political stunt,” he said. “I live in this neighborhood. I’m raising my family here in this neighborhood. I have two toddler boys who understand the importance of recycling, who understand the importance of making sure we keep our block clean, who understand the importance of making sure we keep our driveway clean.”
Street cleaning will entail cleaning debris off sidewalks and reporting short dumping to 311. Trash collection will be serviced by Watts Facilities Solutions, a certified woman-owned, minority-owned business based in West Philadelphia.
“One of the largest constituent issues I deal with is litter and illegal dumping,” Johnson said. “This partnership with Ready, Willing and Able has been in the works for almost a year now and it is a great step forward to help clean the trash off our streets. I’m hopeful this program goes a long way to help improve quality of life and encourage residents to be more responsible with their trash.”
“Ready, Willing and Able has been a great partner to help Clean Point Breeze Streets, and we are excited about Councilman Johnson’s efforts to help tackle the litter and trash problem on our neighborhood streets,” said Val, organizer of Clean Point Breeze Streets.
“We are proud of the work our men in blue do every day to support our neighborhoods and are grateful for the opportunity to highlight our partnership with Councilman Johnson and the community to keep our city streets clean,” Ruth Salters, interim executive director at Ready, Willing and Able, said of her organization’s workers, who wear blue jackets when cleaning up in the streets.
Ready, Willing and Able provides transitional work, occupational training, housing and support services for homeless individuals in Philadelphia. The program aims to break the cycles of homelessness, addiction, and criminal recidivism that can devastate families and communities. Urban Affairs Coalition recently formed a partnership with Ready, Willing and Able to provide administrative support and technical assistance.
Despite Johnson’s initiative, Philadelphia remains the only major major city in the country without a truly comprehensive street cleaning program.