Northwest’s Safe Steps program to begin street cleaning

by Julius Philips
Posted 6/13/24

A program to reduce gun violence by providing free street cleaning will begin operating in Mt. Airy and Germantown in June.

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Northwest’s Safe Steps program to begin street cleaning


A program to reduce gun violence by providing free street cleaning will begin operating in Mt. Airy and Germantown in June. The Safe Steps Northwest program, led by the Mt. Airy Community Development Corporation, state Sen. Art Haywood and startup Glitter, has selected 335 blocks to be cleaned weekly until at least October 2024. The program will focus on removing litter and trash and, if time allows, sweeping leaves and pulling weeds.

The Safe Steps program is funded entirely by an $818,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency's Violence Intervention and Prevention program. After the grant runs out, program leaders hope residents will continue to operate the program at a subsidized rate using a pledge/pay-what-you-want model, with the eventual goal of becoming self-sustaining, with each block leading its own cleanup with community support.

The program is spearheaded by the Mt. Airy CDC, which received the competitive grant and is responsible for its management and distribution. The grant was given after a summer 2022 pilot project conducted by the CDC in the same neighborhoods.

Safe Steps Northwest has partnered with the startup Glitter, which calls itself "an effective and sustainable solution to the trash problem" in Philadelphia. Glitter is led by Morgan Berman, who was named one of the "Top 10 Female Entrepreneurs to Watch" by the United Nations Foundation.

"Glitter was born from a community-driven initiative aimed at enhancing neighborhood cleanliness while also addressing unemployment," Berman said. "I recognized the dual challenges of litter in our streets and the barriers faced by many in finding stable employment."

Glitter was chosen as a partner because "they have experience in the logistics of cleaning urban areas. They know how to do a project like this," said Philip Dawson, executive director of the Mt. Airy CDC.

In addition, Germantown United and Haywood's office will connect community resources and provide advisory support to the program.

Safe Steps Northwest aims to use the impact of cleaner blocks to reduce the incidences of gun violence. A 2018 study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that neighborhoods in Philadelphia where vacant lots were cleaned up saw a 29% reduction in gun violence.

Residents living near those lots also reported feeling much safer afterward, with 58% reporting "having fewer security concerns when leaving their homes" and more than three-quarters saying they "significantly increased use of their outside spaces for relaxing and socializing."

Research from other countries also suggests cleaner blocks may yield many other health benefits, including the reduction of chronic stress, which has been linked to health disparities between higher- and lower-income neighborhoods, as well as improved sleep, digestion and immunity.

As of April 25, the Philadelphia Police Department has identified at least 10 residential blocks in the Northwest as hotspots of gun violence. Philadelphia as a whole has already experienced 75 fatal shootings this year, following more than 400 fatal shootings in 2022. Homicides in the city peaked in 2021 at 562 and have fallen every year since.

"I think it's a great idea," said Ruth Gainwell, 57, of Mt. Airy. "The violence here has gotten out of control."

While Mt. Airy and Germantown rank low in litter levels compared to other areas of the city, parts of the neighborhoods still score high on the city's litter index.

The 335 blocks chosen for the program were selected through an analysis of these gun violence reports and relative litter levels. However, these selections are only preliminary as the data is subject to change year to year.

The Mt. Airy CDC estimates that the final block selections will be released by the end of May. Residents can check if their block is included on Glitter's Safe Steps page when the map is live. Northwest Philadelphia residents whose blocks weren't chosen will be eligible for subsidized cleaning in October 2024.

Glitter, which has already been cleaning multiple neighborhoods in Philadelphia using a pledge model for two years, also said that the new initiative should create new jobs for residents of the Northwest. Glitter prioritizes hiring from diverse backgrounds, including those with a criminal record and those with significant barriers to employment.

Administrators for the program stressed the extent of community engagement and said they would use the program to distribute resources to residents and to throw a block party over the summer to help strengthen community connections.

"We wanted to not just drop people in and clean the streets," Dawson said. "We want to reach out and connect with the community."