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Neighbors say they have their eyes on absentee landlords, illegal dumping
CORRECTION: The name of Denise Brownfield was incorrect in the earlier version of this story. We apologize to Ms Brownfield for the mistake.
Several Duquesne residents have been recognized by city council for their efforts to improve their neighborhoods.
At a recent meeting, City Councilwoman Elaine Washington pointed out a number of residents who have gone above and beyond their civic responsibility and helped clean up and beautify the community.
One of those spotlighted by Washington was longtime resident Catherine M. Scharding.
Scharding said she suspected that Duquesne might now have more landlords than homeowners who occupy their properties. So she met with officials and other residents who wanted to make a difference.
“In the past 20 years I have been observing the decline in the appearance and care of the residents and landlords produced in the city,” Scharding said. “I have read about Pittsburgh neighborhoods with similar challenges and the effort they put in place in Hazelwood, Greenfield and East Liberty. It seemed to me that neighborhoods with an anchor landowner could make an effort and achieve a result.”
For several years, Scharding and a family member walked around her neighborhood on warm weekends, picking up trash, weeds and debris. Scharding said she believed that if other people saw someone was making an effort to care for the neighborhood, they would start to care, too.
And after a while, she said, the amount of garbage they were picking up each weekend began to dwindle.
”One 10-year-old girl excitedly addressed me as, ‘You are the lady who picks up the trash!’” Scharding said. “Children notice adults’ actions.”
(There also was a little boy who thought she might have been punished and performing community service. “What did you do?” he asked Scharding.)
When Scharding won $2,000 with a Powerball lottery ticket in 2021, she used those funds to hire a landscaper and a neighbor to reclaim the corner of Poplar and Kennedy avenues.
Another resident who was noticed for her efforts is Denise Brownfield, who also owns and operates Katie Cares, a Head Start program, along with her daughter Terri Banks. Brownfield is involved in several charitable and entrepreneurial efforts, but still found time to pick up noticeable amounts of trash. “It’s no big deal to me,” she said. “It’s what God requires me to do. And I only want to be pleasing to Him, to secure my seat in Heaven.”
Brownfield said the accumulation of trash on vacant lots in her neighborhood was actually causing her to lose sleep.
Instead of “complaining and finger pointing,” she said, she decided to become “part of the solution.” With help from her best friend, Telly Stephens, the two began hitting the streets at 8 a.m. weekdays, equipped with trash bags.
Over the past few months, Stephens and Brownfield have collected more than 100 bags of trash, as well as toilets, cabinets, windows and tires.
A May 11 social media post triggered a cascade of appreciation for Brownfield’s efforts along Route 837. Brownfield doesn’t spend much time on social media, so she said she didn’t see the posts until friends began reaching out to her.
“I make the time because I love my community,” Brownfield said. “Together we all can do our part in the community to make a difference!”
Efforts by Scharding, Brownfield and others are not going un-noticed, Mayor R. Scott Adams said. He said that Washington has been trying to put together a clean-up committee since 2022, and it seems to be spontaneously becoming a reality through the work of residents.
“We cannot thank those involved enough, and we are hoping more will join in,” Adams said.
The city is committed to doing its part as well, said Adams and Washington. New equipment has been purchased for the city’s street department, they said, and a full crew of part-time help will be working this summer.
“We will aggressively clean, clear, and not just trim, but manicure as many lots as weather permits,” Washington said. “We have our work cut out for us, so please be patient.”
Officials and residents alike also pointed out that Duquesne police Chief Thomas Shaw volunteered his time and efforts to pressure-wash the clock at the corner of Grant and Second avenues, and the area around it.
Scharding said keeping the city clean would be easier if landlords and investors did a better job maintaining their properties. Long-time residents are watching out for poorly kept properties, she said, and they’re also committed to reporting illegal dumping in the city.
“For all those who live here, gain profit here or drive a one-ton truck of debris, household goods or construction debris to dump, the streets and alleys of the City of Duquesne are not your landfill,” Scharding said.
Adams said anyone interested in volunteering on Duquesne clean-up efforts may call the mayor’s office at (412) 469-3857.
Originally published June 06, 2023.