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Community News: Central

DOWNTOWN : Cleanup Diminishes Blight on Broadway

July 10, 1994|TOMMY LI

A former drug and alcohol addict, Cleo Cooper used to wander around Skid Row streets and contribute to the blight that has given the area such a poor image.

"I used to throw down a lot of paper and stuff and thought nothing of it," said Cooper, 49, who lives in a homeless shelter on Winston Street.

But since sobering up four months ago, Cooper has taken pride in keeping Downtown clean through a new job program run by the Chrysalis homeless-assistance agency.

He is one of 28 people who have been hired for the 2-month-old Broadway business district cleanup project, which covers a stretch of the boulevard from 2nd to 9th streets.

Seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., an eight-member crew dressed in green Polo-type shirts and black pants combs Broadway with brooms, trash cans on wheels and walkie-talkies that are also connected to Los Angeles and Metropolitan Transportation Authority police.

Cooper's first day on the job was July 1. He remembered that when he was on Skid Row, he "used to be kind of leery about walking down Broadway."

"I always thought people down here was better than me. (Now) I find that they are just people, and I'm just a person. . . . For some reason when you're working and making a living, you feel productive."

Other crew members like Janice Brown, 32, are just grateful for the opportunity to work.

"I love it. It's a very nice job," said Brown, a single mother of two boys.

Since the program started in May, merchants on Broadway and passersby have noticed a considerable difference in the street's appearance. The crew's visibility has also helped ease the community's concern about safety, they said.

Many of them recall the unattractive street as covered with litter. Overflowing garbage cans at the intersections produced a foul smell.

"Downtown looked like a trash camp," said Gildardo Mota, a salesman at Shoe Fantasy. "Now it's better."

Mota estimated that between May and June, business increased 60% at the store.

John Efferson, 37, one of the supervisors on the Broadway cleanup project, believes more tourists and shoppers are returning to the area because they also view the street-cleaning crews as citizen patrol officers.

"Our main job is trash, but we're not going to turn our backs if we see someone raped or robbed," Efferson said. "It's not our job to arrest people, but we'll report it."

In early June, for example, Efferson spotted a stabbing victim and contacted police. Paramedics were able to treat the wounded man and save his life, he said.

The cleanup efforts have gone far beyond the expectations of those who came up with the idea of sweeping up Broadway's grime and litter.

The program was first supported in May through a $14,000 fund-raising effort by Lisa Schwartz, network manager for the accounting firm of Arthur Andersen & Co.

"So many times, we contribute money to charitable projects and we don't get to see the results," Schwartz said. "It was really moving to see that everybody together can make an incredible difference in our community."

In June, the Community Redevelopment Agency funded the program, and funds from Miracle on Broadway, a merchants association, will pay for it this month, officials said. Board members of the Broadway Improvement Business District, which represents 1,300 merchants, will vote July 20 on whether to keep Chrysalis on contract for the rest of the year.

Edward Harris, a 33-year-old former drug addict who has been on the job since the beginning, hopes the program will continue.

"Even though (the street) doesn't belong to me, I just like to see things clean," Harris said. "I feel proud about it. . . . I feel like I'm part of the city."

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