When Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young stood at the mouth of a trash strewn alley in late January and vowed to eliminate the city’s steep backlog of 311 cleaning requests by April, he knew he faced some challenges.
But he couldn’t have predicted that by mid-March, he would have to suspend much of the Department of Public Works’ operations in response to the rapidly escalating coronavirus pandemic. His signature “Clean it Up!” campaign, a widespread effort to reduce grime across Baltimore, had to be put on hold, just like almost everything else.
Still, members of his administration say they’re heartened by the progress they were able to make in plowing through overdue requests for dirty alley and street cleaning before their April 1 deadline.
“In this moment in which we’re all frantically trying to deal with the coronavirus, I wanted to mark the achievement of workers at DPW and other agencies who made this happen,” said Sheryl Goldstein, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff for operations.
Residents were waiting on more than 17,000 overdue cleaning and property maintenance work orders in September. By January, city crews whittled the backlog down to roughly 7,500.
And as of this week, there were only about 260 overdue requests for cleaning an alley or street. The city managed to get the number of late requests for overgrown weeds down to zero, said John Chalmers, head of the city’s Bureau of Solid Waste.
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On March 23, the public works department suspended “nonessential” services like bulk trash pickup, rat abatement and alley cleaning to preserve resources and keep more employees safe.
“Instead of going a few more days to get to zero, we made decision in the best interest of the city and department to stop the services to focus on what we needed to focus on in this time,” Goldstein said.
Depending how long the city remains in a state of emergency due to the public health crisis, Goldstein said, workers might have to do another “blitz” to clear out whatever backlog accrues.
“This is an opportunity for us to really implore residents to keep our city clean,” she said. “We need to protect our workers, and we need to make sure we have enough workers to be picking up trash and recycling every day.”
Chalmers said that his agency, like those around the country, is struggling to keep up with the demand for protective gear, though he said staff still has access to it.