Fort Worth Historic Southside residents battle illegal dumps

Johnny Lewis’ pride swells when he looks at his neighborhood.

He sees the hard work that he and his late wife put into their home. He sees his neighbors working on their manicured lawns. He sees the rich history of the historic Southside community.

But when he takes a closer look, he sees garbage: garbage bags that have been deposited on the vacant lot down the street. Clothes scattered over a former homeless camp. Cardboard boxes and milk jugs were thrown on the curbs.

In a place where pride can be found on almost every corner, abuse is thrown off there too.

“The bad thing is that people from outside come in and see this and think that the people on the south side don’t care about their neighborhood and they don’t understand that we’re cleaning up,” said Lewis. “People don’t want to dump garbage in the city, so they come from outside and dump it here.”

Lewis and his neighbors, Jherre Williams and Wallace Bridges, recently took a star Telegram reporter and videographer on a so-called “trash tour” to show what they are fighting. They showed dozens of corners filled with garbage bags and cardboard boxes, as well as rubbish and wet clothes left in former homelessness camps.

Williams goes on her own trash tour almost every Sunday morning. She photographs new stacks and reports them in the “MyFW” app, she said. From November 2020 to March, more than 160 complaints of trash and solid waste were reported in Historic Southside.

It feels like an endless cycle. Residents report the garbage. Compliance with the code records it. The garbage is disposed of again. Residents report the garbage.

“It feels like we’re the only ones taking care of it,” said Williams.

Brandon Bennett, Fort Worth chief compliance officer, said he recognizes the overwhelming problem at Historic Southside. But what makes your neighborhood a simple landfill?

When Lewis asked that question, he bowed his head and said, “Why do you think?”

Bennett said areas with vacant lots (of which there are dozens in Historic Southside) are more likely to be the site of illegal dumping, but that the problem is complex.

“There is no single answer to why we see so much rubbish and illegal dumping in one district compared to another,” he said on Wednesday. “In some cases, the neighborhoods are very active and watch out if someone illegally dumps and dials 911. “

Williams, Lewis, and Bridges try to be these proactive residents, but every time they progress another bunch is found.

‘Nobody cares’

Lewis is disturbed by the perception that the residents of Historic Southside, a mostly black area of ​​Fort Worth, don’t care about their neighborhood.

“We cleaned up the neighborhood where we cleaned the whole area,” he said when standing in front of the Southside Community Center. “Because someone else doesn’t care, they come in and throw away. But it looks bad for us. “

Lewis broke open trash bags to see if he could find addresses where they might have come from. That’s why he believes most of the dumping comes from people who don’t live in the neighborhood. It’s a trick he learned from the last code enforcement officer in the region.

03 - Southside Trash.JPG There is a lot of trash in the historic Southside neighborhood on April 1, 2021. Residents are frustrated by the level of illegal dumping in their community. Amanda McCoy [email protected]

“It’s very frustrating to live in a community where I see the kids going to school and walking past this junk,” he said. “It tells them that they don’t live in a good place.”

Residents say trash sometimes sits there for weeks, but Bennett denies any claims that reports made through the app have been ignored for so long.

“We have crews that get it within 72 hours,” he said. “It is not true when people say they report it and it is not cleaned up. There is no benefit in not cleaning it up. What happens is we clean it up and they could take another look at the area and see another bunch. “

District 8 councilor Kelly Allen Gray also admitted that landfill is a problem for the region (and 76,104 neighborhoods beyond the historic south side).

“Not only did I receive complaints, I made my own,” she said. “One of the things I do is drive around my different parts of the city and use the MyFW app a lot.”

Gray said her office tries to stay one step ahead of the garbage problem, but with difficulty.

“If you look along East Lancaster we have trash cans out and they’re full and overflowing and the trash is on the side,” she said. “I think it’s about how it builds up and how quickly we pick it up.”

Homeless camp in the neighborhood

As Lewis pulled his SUV onto the 1600 block of Leuda Street, a greenhouse came into view. The lawn was a bit overgrown, but otherwise the outside of the house was clean.

But right next to the property was a tent on a vacant property. In front of the tent was a stroller, scooter, vacuum cleaner, cooler, and other gadgets that had been thrown away among smaller garbage items.

A woman two doors down recently moved to the neighborhood from Chicago, Lewis said.

“People shouldn’t have to buy a house and live like that,” he said.

Gray said the neighborhood’s close proximity to services on East Lancaster made residents there “unfortunate beneficiaries of unsightliness and illegal dumping and just plain trash everywhere”.

One problem that everyone agreed on is that well-meaning people visit homeless camps to distribute food and clothing, but the donations eventually go to junk.

Lauren King, executive director of the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition, said there were better ways for Fort Worth residents to serve communities in need and she agreed with Lewis about the burden of the trash left behind.

“We try to get in touch with groups who want to give something back,” she said. “There are many well-meaning people out there, but in the end three meals a day are available for anyone who is homeless. Eating is not a necessity. “

06 - Southside Trash.JPG A homeless camp off Vickery Boulevard on historic Southside on April 1, 2021. Amanda McCoy [email protected]

King said the coalition is trying to match church and civil groups that want to distribute food and clothing with groups that are already working with the coalition to ensure donations go to appropriate places that don’t lead to trash. Two coalition workers travel through areas where people affected by homelessness are most likely to stay in order to find these groups and redirect their efforts.

“When we spend a lot of time with people and divert their donations, we ask them to rethink how they do it. They don’t care, ”she said. “It’s interesting that they don’t want to do what is actually needed. If you are not really interested in what is needed, what are you giving for? “

Every day, King said, 400 to 600 people live outside and only 11 people live on their street outreach team. The CARES law allowed them to increase that number, but it’s still difficult to contact anyone who doesn’t have protection. And some people don’t want protection, she said.

Refurbishment could be a solution

Bennett said the city has taken steps in the past to stop illegal dumping, including monthly days of bulk pickup and the addition of drop off points.

One solution, however, is to redevelop areas with undeveloped land.

“The challenge in many underdeveloped areas and with the high temporary population is that we will see this until some redevelopment occurs,” he said. “The best example of this is the Fairmount area.”

Around 2004 Bennett said illegal dumping was worse in Fairmount than it is now in historic Southside. But the neighborhood, including the hospital district and Magnolia Street, has been redeveloped.

“That got a lot of homeowners and more pride in the property, and then we saw less illegal dumping,” he said.

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Nichole Manna is an award-winning investigative reporter for Star Telegram who specializes in criminal justice. Before moving to Fort Worth in July 2018, she was a reporter for newspapers in Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Kansas. She enjoys spending time with her two dogs, a dachshund named Opie and a three-legged terrier named Oliver. You can send her news tips to [email protected], 817-390-7684, or on Twitter @NicholeManna.

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