|SPONSORS:||Roland Lavallee & Fall River Storefront Artists|
‘Ambassadors’ help downtown's image
The Clean and Safe Team answers people's questions, helps the homeless and informs the police of any trouble.
Their job description goes something like this: Must be able to calm drunken revelers, help lost tourists and be willing to peel gum off the sidewalk. The eighteen members of the Downtown Improvement District's Clean and Safe Team were deployed two months ago in downtown Providence in their distinct yellow jackets. Since then, they have answered 5,147 questions from pedestrians and collected 11 tons of trash.
"People ask, 'Where's the closest place to eat?' or, 'How do you get to [Route] 95?' " said 22-year-old Jennifer Plaziak. She has also called the police to deal with public drinking and misbehaving drunks.
Yesterday, public officials and business owners introduced the team to the community and showed off the tools they use. Mayor David N. Cicilline demonstrated a ride-on sidewalk vacuum and City Council President John J. Lombardi washed the sidewalk with a lawnmower-sized scrubber.
The street workers are funded by downtown property owners who agreed to voluntarily pay an 3 percent to 4 percent more on their tax bill. The tax raised $1 million for the program, and the Champlin Foundation gave $150,000 to buy the cleaning equipment.
Frank LaTorre, director of public space for the Downtown Improvement District, said the Clean and Safe Teams are fighting the "broken window theory."
"The more disorganized, the dirtier that a place is, the more unsafe people feel," LaTorre said. "People feel it's out of control, that the vagrant element and the criminal element can prosper and have taken over. By making a meaningful change on the cleanliness aspect, we will reclaim the city."
The workers are also goodwill ambassadors. "It's customer service, positive energy. They should exude a feeling that we are here to assist in any way," LaTorre said. But they are not police officers.
When the teams were forming, some business owners advocated hiring people who had backgrounds in policing or security work. The teams, however, are more customer-service oriented. Organizers hope their presence will deter crime, but they are not expected to jump into a dangerous situation. They carry cell phones and call the police to report illegal activity.
"We are just the eyes and ears for the police," LaTorre said. "We have no desire to be enforcement agents."
The workers were trained how to handle homeless people, drunks and panhandlers, he said. They talk with them. It's not against the law to beg, but aggressive panhandling is illegal. The workers can ask them to stop, but if it persists, they call the police.
"They need a lot of restraint, a lot of patience, and mostly, respect for people," LaTorre said. "That's the hallmark that we looked for. Everybody has the right to be here, but people don't have a right to violate the laws. Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect."
The workers carry telephone numbers, addresses and brochures of social-service agencies and give them to people looking for help.
Some of the street workers have security training, but many do not. Their backgrounds range from construction, landscaping, military service and office cleaning. Several are college students and two were homeless when they were hired.
Joseph Paolino Jr., of Paolino Properties, said he was disappointed that people who lack security training were hired, but he is hopeful they will prevent crime.
The workers, who are paid $8 to $12 an hour, are on the streets from 7:30 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.
"I've seen an improvement," said Keith Maynard, owner of Geller's Shoes. Before the clean team started, Maynard swept the sidewalk in front of his Washington Street business every morning. Not anymore.
George Forte, owner of Del-Fore Jewelers on Matthewson Street, thinks the city should pay for the clean teams, but he admits the streets look better.
Michael Chandley, owner of Cellar Stories Book Store on Matthewson Street, was reluctant to pay the extra assessment. "It really remains to be seen whether it's worth the money or not," Chandley said. "I talk to people from the suburbs who say they don't want to come downtown because it is unsafe. When that perception changes, I would say that the program is successful."
In the meantime, the workers will be under the watchful eyes of their boss – every downtown business owner.
|© 2008 content ArtInRuins. Web design donated by Highchair designhaus. Other support provided by the Narragansett Boat Club, Pearl Street Lofts and Deborah Goldhaft, Fire Ice Glass Studio.|