Since 2012, the city of Dayton has spent more than $1.4 million to clean up illegally dumped trash in neighborhoods and the problem continues to grow.
The city last year received 701 reports of illegal dumping sites — up nearly 20 percent from 2014 — and spent $332,155 removing and disposing of the trash, city data shows.
Technology has made it easier for local residents to report litterbugs and illegal dumping sites, and local law enforcement and other agencies have stepped up efforts to catch perpetrators and implement new programs to raise awareness of the issue.
But trash tends to be a symptom of deeper economic and social issues, reflecting a lack of pride, ownership and connections to the neighborhoods where people live, according to advocates and city officials.
Citizen engagement is key to effectively combating littering, but that takes re-establishing community ties and improving neighborhood conditions to the point where people value their surroundings, said Jo’el Thomas-Jones, co-founder of Neighborhoods Over Politics, which has urged the city to develop a block-by-block revitalization plan.
“Some neighborhoods are war zones,” she said. “Trash has a language of its own. … It says the people here don’t care, and the people are not watching out for each other.”
Trash drags down property values, carries health risks and makes it difficult to attract new residents or investment, officials said.
The city has waged an aggressive public campaign against illegal dumping that likely has led to better reporting, said Fred Stovall, Dayton’s director of public works. People can use the mobile app Dayton Delivers to report dumping sites. Montgomery County allows people to report litterers online.
The city uses almost 30 cameras to monitor illegal dumping sites, and it has partnered with the Montgomery County Environmental Crime Task Force to prosecute illegal dumpers caught on camera, said. Since 2013 there have been 217 illegal dumping cases submitted, 174 prosecuted, 114 convictions, 30 pending cases, he said.
But tougher enforcement of litter laws and prosecution of violators cannot solve the problem of rubbish alone, Stovall said.
Civic engagement, he said, is a huge piece of the solution.
“The most effective (strategies) are the residents of Dayton taking pride and ownership of their neighborhoods,” he said.
Tamisha Wallace lives on Windsor Avenue in Southern Dayton View. The 37-year-old said the alley behind her home has been used as an illegal dumping site for years.
Up the road, across from Princeton Park, large bags overflowing with junk lay in the yard of an abandoned home.
In a nearby alley, discarded tires sit in small stacks.
Plastic bags, food wrappers and empty milk cartons line the roadsides along some neighborhood streets.
Wallace said few of her neighbors seem motivated or interested in trying to change the deplorable state of the environment. She said people seem to accept the ugliness with an apathetic shrug.
“A lot of people just don’t care,” she said. “Sometimes, I am the only one who wants my kids to be proud of their neighborhood.”
The cleanest neighborhoods typically have active, motivated and organized neighborhood associations and community groups, who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty when the landscape becomes blemished or worse, officials said.
Southern Dayton View residents have complained at community meetings about a lack of people willing to volunteer to clean up their streets, said Fred Holley, president of the Dayton View Historic Association.
Neighborhood appearances tell you how people feel about where they live, and the rundown state of neighborhoods in West Dayton communicates residents’ feelings of hopelessness and despair, said Thomas-Jones, with Neighborhoods Over Politics.
“Perception is reality … trash says no one cares, no one’s home, people are poor,” she said. “These have become our forgotten neighborhoods and forgotten citizens.”
Trash most commonly piles up in low-income neighborhoods where many homes and buildings are vacant or poorly maintained and yards and empty lots are unkempt and vegetation is overgrown, Thomas-Jones said.
The city can help mitigate trash problems by aggressively enforcing city code and improving street-level conditions, such as quickly cleaning up dumping sites, mowing vacant yards, enhancing street lighting and installing benches and other amenities that improve aesthetics, she said.
Incremental improvements in the urban landscape can alter people’s attitudes and opinions of their neighborhoods, which can nurture community pride, she said.
Some citizens and community groups are targeting what they say are under-served areas that may suffer from disorganization.
For 10 consecutive Sundays, volunteers working with Black Activist United have walked the streets and alleys of West Dayton, removing trash from messy lots, yards and curbs.
A week ago, the clean-up focused on an area by the DeSoto Bass public housing complex. On Sunday, volunteers worked near More For Less on North James H. McGee Boulevard.
Trash degrades the quality of life and quality of environment for local residents, and it badly hurts the image of the west side, said Anthony Roebuck, lead organizer with Stop Mass Incarceration Miami Valley.
Many people in West Dayton are struggling with joblessness and economic insecurity, but they might come to value their neighborhood if the ugly waste disappears, he said.
“If you clean up the area and make it look a little better, it can give people hope that things will get better,” he said.
The coalition expects to expand its weekly clean ups to other parts of the city that could use a helping hand
The city of Dayton and Montgomery County will assist with neighborhood clean-ups.
Montgomery County Environmental Services provides a large community trailer and supplies, including trash bags, recycling bags, wheelbarrows, litter grabbers and safety gear.
Montgomery County also manages a tire buyback event that since its inception in 2013 has collected more than 50,000 scrap tires, which have been an environmental issue, said John Woodman, a community program specialist II with Montgomery County Environmental Services.
The tire buyback, held once a year, saves local taxpayers about $60,000 annually, Woodman said.
That’s because jurisdictions on average have to spend about $7.27 for every tire they collect and deliver to the county for proper disposal. The buyback’s operational costs are about $3.35 per tire.
“The Montgomery County Environmental Crimes Task Force plays a key role in combating illegal dumping to improve the quality of life for our citizens and restore the beauty of our local neighborhoods,” said Judy Dodge, Montgomery County commission president.