Clean sweep for Baltimore's Mill Hill; City workers, residents attack trash, weeds, rats and vacant houses


Dozens of Baltimore city workers swept through Mill Hill yesterday, clearing 25 tons of trash, slashing 16,000 feet of overgrown weeds and removing hundreds of feet of graffiti in an attempt to turn the tide in the Southwest Baltimore community's war on drugs and crime.

The workers targeted a 13-square-block community sandwiched between Gwynns Falls Park and Washington Village to clear storm drains, bait for rats and board up vacant homes that had become havens for drug users.

Southwest District police officers patrolled the neighborhood of 750 homes in a search for prostitutes and drug dealers.

Residents talked of how good it would be to return to the old days.

"I remember the day you could put $1,000 on your front step and no one would take it," said Jacob P. Meyer, who has lived in the 4400 block of Wilkens Ave. for 42 years. "Now you can't even put a dollar bill out. All because of drug addicts, dope addicts and alcoholics."

The three-day cleanup, called Operation Benedict, is similar to the city's Extraordinary Comprehensive Housekeeping Operation (ECHO) efforts in which city agencies sweep through a neighborhood for several days and then follow up with periodic maintenance.

The Mill Hill cleanup is not considered an ECHO because it covers a small area and does not involve some city agencies, said city Department of Housing and Community Development spokesman John Wesley.

Lower Park Heights was the site of the last ECHO, in early August, where city workers demolished 17 homes, issued 37 sanitation notices, removed 67 tons of debris and cleaned 19 storm drains. Police also made 85 arrests, mostly on drug charges.

Residents say the operation had mixed results in Park Heights, which is still reeling from the shooting death of the Rev. Junior Lee Gamble July 15.

"The police have done their job, but we can't get Public Works to clean up the trash like they should," said Willy E. Ray, a Park Heights activist who lives in the 2800 block of Keyworth Ave.

Mill Hill residents hope the follow-up in their neighborhood will be better.

The community, composed of two-story brick rowhouses on narrow, winding streets, has many elderly homeowners who maintain their homes even as landlords seem to allow some homes to fall into disrepair.

"As people get older, they are going to nursing homes and the landlords come in and rent to people who destroy the place," said the Rev. Paschal A. Morlino of St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church, headquarters for the operation. "The landlords are getting wealthy, and the neighborhood is going to hell."

Overall crime in the neighborhood from Jan. 1 through Sept. 21 was down 26 percent from the same period last year. But violent crime -- rape, aggravated assault and robbery -- increased 7.6 percent, said Lt. Harold G. Muncy. Police also have reported an increase in the number of homicides, but numbers for the area were unavailable yesterday.

Baltimore police and the Mill Hill Improvement Association are coordinating Operation Benedict and have vowed to redouble efforts in the area, Muncy said.

"We will work the community to maintain the ground we gained today," said Administrative Lt. Regis Phelan for the Southwest District. "You don't want to see this community defeated."

Pub Date: 10/06/99

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