Central Plaza residents pick up trash in Austin

May 24, 2010
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If the streets around Central Avenue and Lake Street look a little cleaner these days, thank the men of the CP Clean Up team.

Randall Brent works near Levin Park on May 20. (Photo/Sarah Ostman)

Dressed in work gloves and bright yellow T-shirts, these residents of the Central Plaza Residential Home spend several hours a day ridding their neighborhood of empty bottles and debris. It’s a seemingly never-ending task – but that doesn’t faze Randall Brent.

Nathaniel White (left) and Robert Lee clean up near Levin Park earlier this month. (Photo/Sarah Ostman)

“We’re just trying to help the community,” said Brent, 47, as he carried a trash bag under the Central Avenue Green Line overpass earlier this month.

Up ahead, a man waiting for a bus gave another team member a high-five. “They look and they admire us for the job that we do,” he said.

CP Clean Up is a new program at Central Plaza, a live-in facility for people with mental illnesses, located at 321 N. Central Ave.

Six men currently take part in the program, going out with their supervisors each week day morning to clean parks, sidewalks and vacant lots, covering a wide swath of Austin from Laramie Avenue west to Austin Boulevard, and from Madison Street up to North Avenue.

It’s good for the neighborhood, said Central Plaza Executive Director Jeff Ingraffia. And as part-therapy, part-community service, it’s good for the residents, too.

“We have a lot of people who are going to go (back out into the community), and this is a way of getting them ready to do that,” Ingraffia said. “This is part of that socialization, it’s part of that learning of responsibility.”

And they have fun, said Program Coordinator Tiffany Moye; participants are often up and dressed in the morning, rakes in hand, long before the staff is ready to go. And once they’re out the door, their pride is easy to see.

Luke Massett (left) and Raul Diaz are part of a six-member team that picks up litter throughout Austin. (Photo/Sarah Ostman)

“They’re walking past people who are getting ready for work at 7:30 in the morning, and their chest is big, like, ‘Hey, I’m working, too,’” Moye said. “Sometimes they do such a big job that they come in bragging for 30 minutes.”

Ald. Ed Smith (28th) is a strong supporter of CP Clean Up; he provides all the bags and tools the workers need for the job.

And, he says, he knows first-hand how important it is to keep his ward clean. Smith goes out each day to pick up trash with people assigned to do community service in his ward.

“We have to work to try to keep it clean, because the manpower at Streets and Sanitation isn’t there anymore,” the alderman said. “Plus there are some areas close to (Central Plaza Residential Home) that’s a real tough area, and we could use some help there.”

One of those tough areas is around Levin Park – where, a few weeks ago, a CP Clean Up team member came across a handgun tossed in some overgrown grass. They turned the gun over to the police.

So far, the response from residents and business owners has been positive. Tony Plair, who lives adjacent to the park, said he appreciates the work the clean-up team is doing.

“It keeps the place clean,” Plair said. “The city does what they want, what they can, so to have volunteers come out and keep it clean it makes it even better. We don’t have the (same) luxuries as Oak Park.”

Ingraffia hopes to grow the program to involve more residents and cover more ground.

The program’s coordinators welcome suggestions of spots in Austin that need cleaning; tips can be sent to CPCleanUp@CentralPlaza.org.

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