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Surprise! East Side neighbors wake up to Clean Sweep debut

Neighbors on a block of an East Side street woke up Wednesday to a flood of people, from police officers going door-to-door to city workers with neon construction vests raking lawns and cutting down tree branches.

“It’s very nice, and it’s about time,” said Hannah Hailstock, 87, as she stood on her Waverly Street porch and watched an AmeriCorps worker pick up garbage from her lawn.

Wednesday marked the year’s first Clean Sweep, in which a one- or two-block area is targeted by city personnel, volunteers and agencies looking for everything from criminals and stolen utility services to squatters and piles of garbage.

The city decides which blocks to target, using census data, input from elected officials and information collected in calls to 911 and its non-emergency 311 line, which fields complaints about such things as rodents and buckling sidewalks.

Though the city kicked off the 2013 Clean Sweep season with great fanfare, residents on targeted blocks will likely be caught off guard when crews arrive.

“One common thread with many of the neighborhoods that we go into is the presence of some kind of criminal activity, and we don’t want the criminal activity or element to know that we’re coming,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown.

The cost of the program to city taxpayers is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but an exact figure wasn’t available Wednesday.

Part of the program is subsidized with a $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, and county and state agencies are also involved.

On Waverly Street, which runs off East Ferry Street, tidy homes built in the last 25 years stand next to imposing three-story eyesores with rotting roofs.

When they moved into their new homes during the early 1990s, residents, many of them retired, were told the street was going to be all new builds within five years.

That has not happened.

Residents said they like their quiet street and applauded the city’s efforts to demolish dilapidated houses, which attract drug dealers and squatters.

The Rev. Earl McClain was grateful the city cut down low tree branches and that the police had come to the street.

“A lot of the shady characters won’t come around with so many people around,” he said. “It’s a good neighborhood. There’s just a few bad people.”

The city completed 27 Clean Sweeps last year and hopes to finish the same number this year, with at least one in every Council district.

The sweeps also include dental students who go door-to-door with educational materials. In addition, the city will hire more seasonal employees this year, who will be assigned to the sweeps, Brown said.

There are 35 to 40 departments and agencies represented at each sweep, and each involves about 80 people.

After the sweeps are over, the city follows up with block clubs, said Oswaldo Mestre, director of Citizen Services.