Tuesday through Friday, Malik Williams cleans litter off the sidewalks near Temple University in his blue and orange One Day At A Time uniform.
Armed with shovels, brooms, leaf blowers and trash cans, the eight-person crews of people in recovery collect trash block by block. They’re from ODAAT, a North Philadelphia-based substance use recovery organization that provides housing and employment and youth services.
“Some of these guys were trashing these streets,” said Williams, a supervisor on ODAAT’s street cleanup team. “Now they’re cleaning it up.”
When the university unveiled the North Central Special Services District on April 5, a nonprofit that will dedicate funds to upkeep in the neighborhood near Main Campus, the SSD Board expanded its contract with ODAAT. The group cleans the district’s area and assists residents with trash removal Tuesday through Friday, starting April 1. The SSD Board’s contract with ODAAT will continue through Spring 2019 move-out and end on June 30, said Tara Miller, the executive director of the district.
The SSD Board will decide whether to renew ODAAT’s contract before June 30, and it likely will, Miller said. Joan Briley, the SSD Board president, believes the board will likely renew the contract, she said.
The group works between Broad Street and 18th Street to the west and Oxford Street and Dauphin Street to the north.
Two years ago, Williams, received recovery services from ODAAT. Now, he supervises its cleanup program.
“Part of recovery is not just getting off the substance you’re addicted to,” he said. “It’s about a whole new way of life. The core of the disease is self-centeredness, so helping and reaching out to the community is part of that healing process.”
ODAAT crew members also use their presence in the North Philadelphia community as an opportunity to spread information about the organization’s services to residents, said Joby Suender, ODAAT’s chief of staff. Services include job training, access to a food pantry, housing and after-school youth programs, he said.
“It seems like it’s just street cleaning, picking up trash and litter, but it’s really a lot more than that,” said Suender, a 2014 geography and urban studies alumnus. “The guys are out handing ODAAT information to residents in the neighborhood in case they need connections to any type of those services.”
ODAAT’s contract extension came after a pilot in a smaller area of the neighborhood near Main Campus during “the move-out,” when students leave behind trash and large debris after leaving off-campus apartments for the summer, The Temple News reported. The district chose ODAAT to tackle trash issues because the organization’s clients are often from North Philadelphia, Miller said.
“When you’re working in your community, it helps when you’re trying to build relationships with your neighbors,” she added.
Residents gave positive feedback to the SSD Board and said workers are responsive to requests to help clean areas with a lot of trash, Miller said.
Trash in the area around Main Campus poses a threat to neighbors’, especially children’s health, said Rahim Poplar, 39, who has lived on 15th Street near Norris for five years. ODAAT provides a service for the neighborhood while preparing people in recovery for employment, he said.
“It’s good to clean the streets out here,” Poplar added. “We need to get pollution out of the street.”
Students’ trash on 18th Street near Montgomery Avenue is so bad that Nate Taylor, a 20-year resident, sweeps the streets along with his neighbor, he said.
“Nobody’s cleaning this block but us,” Taylor said. “We don’t get help from our neighbors or the city.”
Taylor has not seen or heard of ODAAT, but welcomes their help cleaning, he said.
“I don’t care who you from,” he said. “If you’re going to clean [the block], clean it.”
Adohn McNeil, who has been with ODAAT for five months, said he loves when people thank him for cleaning the street.
“It’s a ‘clear-your-mind’ kind of therapeutic,” said McNeil while reaching down to grab trash from under a car tire.
The response to ODAAT’s street cleaning work in the area near Main Campus has been positive, said Jerria Shipley, who has also worked with ODAAT for five months.
“It’s greatly needed,” Shipley said. “It’s appreciated.”