In early April 2021, Mayor Walsh proposed the City’s fiscal year 2022 budget to the Syracuse Common Council. After a challenging financial year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Walsh administration outlined its funding priorities to steer the city back on the road to recovery. One of the investments designed to sustain the City’s aesthetic appeal was the creation of the Environmental Services Division (ESD), an arm within the Department of Public Works (DPW) formerly known as the Information Service Request Division.
Charged with the goal of helping to keep city neighborhoods free from litter, a seasonal ESD crew named S.A.L.T. (Syracuse Area Litter Team) began their work back in May 2021. The trio can be seen any and everywhere during the week. They can be spotted walking up and down hills, on narrow or wide streets, between cars, and in the crevices of forgotten locations in need of TLC. With hazard vests as their capes, tongs and a bucket as their instruments to affect change, and a utility van to take them to and from each area, this group is making a difference one street at a time.
Meet Joseph “Joe” Stafford. He’s a Syracuse transplant who has made the city his home for the last six years. Stafford is a family man who is originally from New Jersey. After living down south for a number of years, an uncle who has since passed away invited him to the Salt City and is the reason he decided to stay. Now as one of the members on the seasonal team, he’s looking to plant even more roots by aiming to become a permanent presence within DPW.
In his current role, much like his other teammates, he drives and rotates picking up litter along a stretch of the street as they move up each block. “I like being outside. I like working with my hands and I like dealing with people,” said Stafford. Stafford sees the aftermath of city streets after they come through. His hope is to continue the work he does and pursue opportunities to advance while staying busy. “I’m not trying to be here temporarily. I’d like to make working [within DPW] a career.”
Meet RJ Hunter. Like most people, the COVID-19 pandemic led him down the road of needing of a job. The ESD seasonal job opening was recommended to him by a current DPW employee. Even though RJ’s initial motivation was to secure a new stream of income, he later realized the work the crew was doing has a significant environmental effect. Hunter stated “It became more important to me. It makes me feel like you’re actually doing something for your community.”
A Syracuse native and a 2020 graduate from Corcoran High School who currently lives on the West Side, Hunter has seen various parts of the City throughout his entire life. There are areas where litter is more prevalent and then there are areas where the need isn’t as great. “There’s such a difference [that’s being made]. You can tell. From when we start from when we get off, it’s like, so much better.”
He believes the neighbors have seen the impact the crew has made so far. The car horns honking from each passerby and the thank yous all point to the fact that the community is grateful for the recent services dedicated to #KeepingCuseClean.
Meet Jumal Salaam. He’s can be perceived to be the quiet one out of the crew. He does his job and keeps it moving. Also a Syracuse native and graduate from the Syracuse City School District, Salaam is committed to fulfilling the demands of his current position. He can be seen grabbing at the pieces that could possibly be missed by others.
As a genuine and hardworking individual, Salaam is interested in seeing more work that leads to real transformation. ESD’s efforts play a role in beautifying parts of the city but there’s a lot to do to make a significant dent. He believes that it will take more equitable investments made by residents, business owners, and the City to make every neighborhood desirable and a great place to live.
The crew will continue its work through the fall before the snow starts to come down, burying litter they would otherwise collect. For now, Salaam, Hunter and Stafford will work to improve the quality of city neighborhoods by clearing the unwanted and restoring the environment’s natural appeal.
“The Litter Team has been an extremely valuable addition to Environmental Services,” said ESD Superintendent Andy Jakubowski. “Jumal, RJ and Joe are very productive, committed and hard working employees, and the City of Syracuse is better for having them here.”
S.A.L.T.’s work, coupled with the full-time, 15-person group of ESD employees who work on the clean-up projects that require more manpower, is evident with each before and after shot. With the larger group working with the Syracuse Police Department through CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) to clear locations where overgrowth, bulk piles, and outdoor living quarters are common, the two-pronged approach is helping to improve Syracuse’s environment.
The W. Fayette Street Bridge near S. Geddes and Magnolia Streets is a great example of how the overall goal to beautify Syracuse is being tackled. The bridge where there was once a bunch of clothes, trash and needles is now free of the accumulated waste, enhancing the neighborhood.
Wherever a stark difference can be seen, know that it may very well have been the ESD team making Syracuse is a cleaner city, one street at a time.