Highlandtown brings in AmeriCorps team to study illegal dumping trends

On In Focus, we've highlighted Baltimore's illegal dumping problem and the number of ways the city is fighting it.
One southeast Baltimore neighborhood is taking an innovative approach to addressing the issue and has brought in some outside help.
A team of young people from across the country are taking on one of Baltimore's biggest problems. They hope their work will help clean up a community and eventually, the city as a whole.
The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) is an unusual sight on the streets of Highlandtown in southeast Baltimore.
They're armed with brooms, shovels and trash bags and walk with purpose into places many people wouldn't dare, alleys piled with trash, debris and even worse. 
"We find anything from needles, to dead rats to diapers to condoms and that's just some of the dirty work we do," said Kristal Wiggins, NCCC field team leader.
The Poly grad always knew she wanted her work to make a difference, and she's doing just that right in her hometown. 
"It started with my mom," she said. "I grew up watching her help people, so in turn, that's kind of what I want to do."
After hearing community members' complaints for years, the Southeast Community Development Corporation applied to have an AmeriCorps team come to Baltimore to study the illegal dumping problem in Highlandtown.
"Dumping unfortunately, is a challenge for folks who are trying to build a market and just maintain their homes and a quality, quality of life," said Agatha So, Southeast CDC community outreach coordinator.
The nine-member team is cleaning up the most problematic alleys of anywhere from five to seven streets per week, returning to the same spots, week after week.
They are seeing results. Their first week, they collected 40 bags of trash.The second week, that number dropped to 12. But it can still, at times, feel like a losing battle.
"Sometimes it kind of feels like, we're here, we clean it up but then the people just see that we're cleaning it up, so they just come and dump again because they know that we're going to clean it up," Wiggins said.
Even more important than the clean-up is the data collection. The team's goal is to identify what's being dumped, when and where it's being dumped and even potentially who is doing the dumping. 
"I think they have done a phenomenal job in terms of manpower, as a nine-member team, to be able to literally collect all the data, observe, take photos," So said.
At the end of the seven week project, team members will present their findings to community groups and the Department of Public Works in the hopes of developing more effective ways to fight illegal dumping. 
"It does mean something to me that we could possibly be carrying or getting together data that my city could potentially use towards being a better city," Wiggins said.
Wiggins hopes that seeing the team in action will inspire others to help in the effort to clean up their neighborhoods and come up with solutions.
"We're coming in to someone's community," she said. "So we want them to know that we're here, that we care about their community and they should be involved in it as well." 
The group is in it's fifth week of work in Baltimore. The project wraps up on June 27.
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