East Camden residents take the lead in city clean up


camdenresidents-webLeft, in photo: Residents of North 28th Street in East Camden repaint curbs on a recent Saturday morning.

CAMDEN — Residents of North 28th Street recently came together on an early Saturday morning to clean up their block and demonstrate their commitment to a healthy and clean Camden.

Neighbors united to weed and remove trash from an overgrown side yard, sweep trash from the street, re-paint the curbs and clean out the neglected alleyway behind their homes.

Many of the residents have resided on the block for 15 years or more. For many of those years, the street held its share of trash and abandoned houses, was a byway for ATVs, and was populated by drug dealers and drug traffic.

The 46 families on the block realized they had to come together to make the block a safe, clean place to grow up for their children.

Consuelo Rodriguez explained, “There are a lot of kids on this block who grew up together and like to play outside. As parents, we want to feel secure enough to let them do that, so we started thinking about how to keep bad influences away from the block.”

Camden City police had worked with CCOP (Camden Churches Organized for People) and St Joseph’s Carpenter Society in 2009 to eliminate a drug hotspot on 28th Street. In the summer of 2010, the neighbors began holding group meetings at the CCOP office to discuss strategies to keep illegal activity away from the block. They wondered if one way to protect the block was to improve the way it looks.

Explained Rayshell Love, “We know that the worse a block looks from the outside, the more people think it’s OK to come in and do illegal things. We want people who pass our block to know that we care what happens here and we protect each other.”

Meeting every two weeks in bilingual meetings, the residents compiled a list of improvements they wanted, including trees, street lights, façade painting, new house numbers and street paving.

The residents worked with the New Jersey Tree Foundation to secure a grant for new trees in the spring of 2011. While the resident Organizing Committee waits for the tree planting, they are working with the Camden Diocese, St. Joseph’s Carpenter Society and private donors to secure donations for other improvements.

As a long term goal, the team is working with City Council President and Camden County director of public works Frank Moran to have their street repaved. Like many streets in the city, 28th street is pock-marked and deteriorating and badly needs to be repaved.

According to Moran, the city’s budget and state appropriations barriers prevent many streets from being repaved.

Said Erwin Boche, “As residents and taxpayers in Camden, we deserve paved streets just like people in any other New Jersey city. Broken streets harm our cars and cause accidents. The city may be in a budget crisis, but the residents can’t wait another decade for basic services like street paving. As an organizing committee, our block has confidence that we can make the system work for us by getting involved and demanding what’s right.”