A video of Jersey City government employee Brooke Hansson going off on an expletive-laced rant about trash strewn around near her Bostwick Avenue home in the city’s Greenville section went public in September of last year.
While Hansson gained unwanted attention for getting her point across in a manner that was considered by some as unworthy of her position, she also gained support from some residents for bring attention to a problem that has been plaguing the town over the years – the unwelcome sight of litter in the streets.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop has undertaken a major initiative to deal with this situation since he was sworn into office in July 2013.
That endeavor is known as the Stop the Drop Campaign that employs young people in the city to pick up garbage from city streets.
According to Fulop in an emailed statement to this reporter, this year, the program’s third one in operation, more than 180 Jersey City youth were hired to clear litter and debris from residential streets during this summer, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Saturday, in an effort to clean up neighborhoods throughout the city’s six wards.
Fulop said the program’s emphasis on youth employment has served another wide-reaching purpose.
“The students who are working with the Stop the Drop program tell us that this has changed their attitude on littering,” Fulop said. “Since they are responsible now for cleaning the community, they will tell their family, friends, or sometimes strangers, that littering is not okay and are positively engaging the broader community in awareness around this issue.”
Fulop is also optimistic that this year’s Stop the Drop endeavor will be as successful as last year’s effort when 4.51 tons of solid waste and 1.45 tons of recyclable waste were collected.
Residents across the city shared their observations with the City Storytellers Project about litter on Jersey City streets.
Carolyn Oliver-Fair is a lifelong resident of the city who thinks more can be done by the city when it comes to dealing with garbage, especially outside of the city’s more affluent Downtown area.
“This is a tale of two cities in Jersey City. Downtown Jersey City is immaculate, you can eat off the ground,” Oliver-Fair said. “Uptown and the inner city, there is trash all over the ground. And people will say ‘Oh, it’s a way of life.’ No, it’s not a way of life.
“Although, I would go as far as to say that it is an expression of oppression, depression, and anger. But there’s a lot more that can be done. We pay plenty of taxes, and we should be afforded the same services the residents of Downtown are getting.”
She said that the city should have humans doing traditional “push-broom” sweeping, and carry out quality-of-life enforcement targeting homeowners and business owners to clean up in front of their properties.
Barbara McCann Stamato works as an aide to City Councilman Frank Gajewski, who represents the city’s Greenville area where Stamato resides.
Stamato said that while the city is doing as much as possible to keep the city clean, it is up to residents to do their part. She cited the example of some parents dropping off their children at Our Lady of Mercy School on Sullivan Drive near the County Village residential community.
“People are parked near there when the kids are in the school and they are like emptying their cars, the garbage from their cars,” Stamato said. “I actually called the [Our Lady of Mercy] rectory and complained and we sent [city inspectors] down there.”
Stamato said that the littering problem does not stem so much from property owners as it does from a “culture” where it is acceptable to throw refuse out of a car while driving or onto a sidewalk while walking out of a store.
She also said that while the Stop the Drop program has been effective, she would like the city to be more attentive to store owners who want a trash can in front of their stores. She encountered that situation when a store owner in the Greenville section requested a can.
“I guess the city doesn’t do it anymore because then it just gets loaded with people’s personal trash,” Stamato said. “But when a store owner says, ‘I will take personal responsibility for the basket,’ I think that’s a great thing.”
Blocking Out the Mess
Walter Daniels is one of the founders of the Woodlawn Avenue Block Association, based in the Greenville area.
Daniels said tackling the litter situation on Woodlawn Avenue meant working out an interesting arrangement with his neighbor Clarence Collins.
“From 370 Woodlawn up, Clarence is in charge of that, and from 370 down, that’s my responsibility,” Daniels said.
Daniels explained that the two split the avenue in half so they each of them have a group of residents to work with to make sure they pick up any garbage in front of their property, and that the sewer grates near street corners are cleared of any trash.
Daniels said the block association is also working store owners along Sterling Avenue to make they clear litter away from their storefronts and is also involved with the Stop the Drop program.
He said since him and his neighbors have worked to make their neighborhood much cleaner, it has had an impact reaching beyond where they live.
“People have come and told us about our block being clean and now other blocks want to join us,” Daniels said. “So now we can guide them and show them how to keep their block clean.”
Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org