Take a drive through the Florida-Desire neighborhood across from George Washington Carver High School and you will see overgrown streets and abandoned cars, but that is only the beginning of the mess.
“We are going to peel back the first layer of brush,” said United Saints Recovery Project executive director Chris Schottland. “Underneath it we find tiers, mattresses, couches. We found a Jacuzzi.”
The area also has a number of abandoned homes, known as shoot-up dens around here.
“We will probably pull 30-40 hypodermics (needles) out of there,” said Schottland, pointing to one of the blighted structures.
On Saturday, volunteers with United Saints worked to clear the area, getting some help from the University of Southern Mississippi, both the Hattiesburg and Gulf Coast campuses.
“We are here to learn about the community of New Orleans and put ourselves in their shoes,” said student volunteer Brooklyn Thomas who was volunteering on her Fall break.
The neighborhood was brought to Schottland’s attention by church leaders at Carver Desire Baptist Church. He says clearing overgrown areas and cleaning the area is the first step.
“I am sure in the future there will be long-term permanent solutions to these kinds of problems,” said Schottland. “In the meantime, we’ve got help and we’ve got tools, primitive and dull, but they work.”
Clearing away the mess will take time, at least six months or so, but volunteers like veteran Steven Jones are hungry and ready to keep at it.
“To give everything you have, both physically and mentally, it’s very rewarding,” said Jones.
Once the brush and trash is clear, the idea is to have community members and neighbors tend to the area. If you want more information on volunteering, click here for more information.
Paul Dudley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.