Dover activist looks to solve trash problem on South New and Reed streets

This is just some of the trash that has been accumulating on South New and Reed streets over the past year, according to community activist Chelle Paul, who is hoping the city of Dover cleans up the area before Christmas. (Submitted photos/Chelle Paul)

DOVER — The trash that is piling up in vacant lots and on sidewalks off South New Street and Reed Street in downtown Dover is a symptom of a greater problem that has plagued the area for years, according to Chelle Paul, who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee for the NAACP Delaware State Conference of Branches — a scared community that fears the criminal element that often hangs out on those streets.

Ms. Paul said she has reached out to city of Dover officials for the past eight months in an effort to get the trash cleaned up, which ironically might make the area less attractive for the people who continue to loiter on those streets.

“This is an actual violation of people and their human life and not being able to live and maintain,” Ms. Paul said. “You have piles of garbage, literally, and rats that are actually in that debris that’s out there. That has now become a health hazard.

“It’s unacceptable the city has allowed this area to go uncleaned for this long. They haven’t cited anybody that’s responsible. It’s not fair to the people that have to live there.”

Ms. Paul said she has presented the matter to Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen and members of Dover City Council, but said neither has “responded to this matter, which at this point is considered an emergency due to the health hazard it has created and is definitely not acceptable.”

City council is scheduled to receive an update on code enforcement and crime mitigation on Reed and New Streets at its Dec. 14 meeting.

Mayor Christiansen said city staff has been fighting a daily battle just to keep up since the outbreak of COVID-19 back in March.

“We’re doing our regular trash pickup,” the mayor said. “We’re short-staffed due to the outbreak that we’ve had and it’s kind of difficult to pick up trash and have people just throw it back down on the street. I will say one thing, over the last four or five years we’ve — folks in the community — have organized trash pickups to clean that area with little cooperation from the people that are there.

“Code enforcement continues to do what they’re supposed to do and right now we really don’t have the resources to do a clean-up of it. So we’re relying on regular trash pickups and just hoping that the people who live in the area will just start looking out and helping with the trash that needs to be picked up.”

Ms. Paul alleged that when the downtown business community presents issues to the city, council is quick to take action, such as when panhandling by the homeless population became a problem over the past year. An increased police presence downtown helped to alleviate that issue.

“When it comes to the Black community, it’s always an excuse as to why it’s not possible to treat the matter as priority,” Ms. Paul said. “The city has dropped the ball by not enforcing the city code or battling the criminal issues. There is no excuse to have allowed these residents to continue living in this area this long like this. The area is not fit for a dog to reside.”

Ms. Paul said she has one request for the city of Dover – to please make it a priority to clean up South New and Reed streets by Christmas.

City Councilman David Anderson would also like to see the area get cleaned up.

“(Ms. Paul) has a lot of passion and I support her efforts,” he said. “I plan to spend some time myself with some volunteers cleaning up.”

Councilman Anderson has helped organize a virtual Town Hall with other councilmen from the 1st and 4th districts who will address the New and Reed Street blight issues on Thursday at 6 p.m. Those interested can join the meeting at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87183519352?pwd=QXpQTUpid3RaRUhQRllKek9DYnZoZz09

Members of the city’s code enforcement staff joined Dover Assistant City Manager Matt Harline, Assistant Police Chief David Spicer and Robin Eaton, director of Parks and Recreation, on Nov. 20, to survey the condition of the area and try to find a solution to combat the criminal and blight issues that continue to mar it.

The group said they will increase police presence in the area, while code enforcement will concentrate more time there and Mr. Harline will be contacting NCALL, which owns four properties on South New Street that it will be revitalizing with new homes in the future, as well as Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity, which owns another property “to do their part in keeping the area clean and presentable.”

Ms. Paul said she believes if the area on South New Street and Reed Street is cleaned up, it could help break up a cycle of crime that routinely takes place on those streets. She pointed to three fatal shootings that have occurred on those streets over the past year.

“In order to get rid of that element, you need to clean up the streets,” she said. “Right now, you have people who are actually fearing for their lives who actually live on the street. They have elements that are there (hanging out) that don’t even live there. The people that have to live there can’t let their children go out and play and it’s just a big mess.

“If you look at the actual streets themselves and how poorly they were maintained … and then you have shootings and gambling with people shooting craps, drinking, playing cards on the sidewalk and people on drugs … and all of this is there in the broad daylight and Dover PD rides past it.”

Ms. Paul did add that an increased police presence on New and Reed streets recently has led to arrests for people loitering and drug activity and she thanked the mayor and police chief for those efforts.

However, she said, there is still work that needs to be done and offered up a suggestion.

“Since (the city has) been neglectful to this particular community, they need to divert the cleanup crews that they have going elsewhere — and they can go without service for a week or two — until they get this mess cleaned up,” said Ms. Paul. “It’s a no-brainer. This is not a request that they can’t come through with.”