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Government, Politics & Issues

University City combines neighborhood cleanup with amnesty offer

Brenda and Cathy Marshall clear brush from an empty lot in University City. The sisters were among hundreds of volunteers that cleaned up the neighborhood and completed minor home repairs Oct. 28, 2017.
Brenda and Cathy Marshall clear brush from an empty lot in University City. The sisters were among hundreds of volunteers that cleaned up the neighborhood and completed minor home repairs.

Hundreds of volunteers donned stocking caps and work gloves Saturday to clean up empty lots and complete minor home repairs in University City.

Cold temperatures prevented workers from pouring concrete, but city residents and others from throughout the St. Louis region cleared brush, picked up trash, cleaned gutters and painted railings.

University City has organized similar events on Make a Difference Day for a decade, but this year the city combined it with an amnesty opportunity for people charged with misdemeanor crimes such as traffic or building code violations.

University City councilman Rod Jennings said he was inspired to combine the events because some older residents had housing code violations.

“They thought University City was trying to take their home. They couldn’t afford to do the work. Some of them couldn’t even physically get to court, you know because of age or some other ailments,” Jennings said.

About a dozen people signed up for the chance at amnesty, which Jennings said would clear their arrest warrant and give them a new court date.

“They don’t have to duck and dodge and hide anymore, we can get them into court, and again, I’ve asked the judge and prosecutors let’s find ways for resolution without charging them with a fine,” Jennings said. “This is them not being sentenced to community service. This is them taking the first step.”

University City councilman Rod Jennings and Lucas Hayden, 10, use brush cutters to remove overgrown plants from a fence during a neighborhood cleanup event Oct. 28, 2017.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Marcia Mermelstein, University City’s senior services coordinator, said most of the calls she gets from older residents are about the need for home repairs.

“These are people, some of them in their late 70s, 80s, 90s, who just can’t do what needs to be done. So they want to keep their house looking nice for themselves. They also want to keep their house looking nice because they’re very concerned about being cited by the city,” Mermelstein said. “If they’re cited, then they have to deal with court costs, and they may have to deal with paying someone to do the work.”

Mermelstein said the volunteers repaired 40 homes Saturday, including some owned by residents who called requesting help as early as March.

In addition to pairing up with two local churches, University City partnered with Better Family Life and Habitat for Humanity this year to bring in volunteers.

Avis McHugh, director of family services for Habitat for Humanity St. Louis, said this is the fourth neighborhood cleanup the two organizations have planned this year.

“We kind of came out and did some canvassing in the neighborhood a couple of days ago, put some flyers on the doors and just invited the residents to be a part of it, because it really has to be a partnership,” McHugh said.

The goal of the clean up is to make neighborhoods safer by making it easier to see around sidewalks and corners.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille

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