A multi-million dollar effort to clean up Philadelphia’s commercial corridors was launched Wednesday on North 5th Street, Olney’s bustling business artery.
It’s not just a sanitation program. City leaders hope the initiative will spur business activity and provide good-paying jobs to people struggling to find work.
“We’re giving people who live in neighborhoods a clean community, and we’re giving people who need jobs access to the opportunity to earn a living the right way,” said Councilwoman Cherelle Parker, who led an effort to secure funding for the program.
Through the initiative, known as the Philadelphia Taking Care of Business Clean Corridors Program, the city will provide $7 million to 39 community-based organizations to hire cleaners to spruce up 85 commercial avenues.
In most cases, the nonprofits contract with a cleaning company to send out a three-or four-person crew three to five times a week.
The effort is an expansion of a previous program operated by the city’s Department of Commerce — which had been paying to clean 49 corridors — and a similar effort undertaken in Parker’s district.
“The real gem of our work is our cleaning program,” said Stephanie Michel, director of the North 5th Street Revitalization Project, which employs three Olney residents to collect litter.
Michel said the additional money will allow the organization to hire a new person, give cleaners additional hours and sweep up more frequently.
Officials said the Streets Department will provide trucks to pick up the trash bags after the workers finish their shift.
“Our business strips are the backbone of our community economically,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “They employ a lot of people, and we need to make sure that they are presentable, that they are clean and safe.”
Representatives from the Kenney administration said the program is expected to create more than 200 jobs, with a minimum pay of $15 an hour.
The workers, known as “cleaning ambassadors,” don’t need a high school diploma, and leaders are encouraging organizations to contract with companies that hire people who are coming out of the prison system.
People brought on to clean the streets will also be provided job training that will be built into their workday.
Mike Crawford grew up in Olney and runs Holla Sporting Goods on North 5th Street, which he says is the only Black-owned sporting goods store in the country.
“This is what people are looking for,” he said. “These young youth, especially these young Black men, don’t have that opportunity. By creating jobs and this opportunity for them, the sky’s the limit.”
City Council President Darrell Clarke said these jobs could be “a light at the end of the tunnel” for some residents.
A group attempted to disrupt Wednesday’s press conference by shouting down speakers and asking for help in finding missing friends and relatives.
They say Jerome Lawrence and Sindell Glover were last seen in the area two weeks ago and that they have not received help from the city. Elected leaders, including Parker and Clarke, spoke to the group after the event.