These are just some of the problems the Pamela Hazel and Joe Moretti of Clean Up Jamaica Now have been trying to address in their blighted neighborhood with limited – and seldom sustainable – success.
According to the New York City Department of Sanitation (DSNY), of the 4,628 notices of violations for trash-related issues in Queens last year, 20 percent were filed in Jamaica, which houses only about 10 percent of Queens’ residents.
“I live in this neighborhood and I pass by these areas all the time,” Hazel said. “I got frustrated because when I call the elected officials, they would always make excuses, so then I started writing about it, reporting about it, going to 311, going through all the vehicles that were available to me, but to no avail.”
On Saturday, Hazel and Moretti gave the Queens Ledger a personal walking tour of some of the areas of concern in Jamaica. The first stop on the tour was the Jamaica Center MTA station, which services both the E and J trains.
While on the premises, it was easy to detect the smell of cigarette smoke emanating from a stall in the men’s room that was loaded with black plastic bags that appeared to be the belongings of a homeless man.
In the women’s restroom, crass and unintelligible shouts could be heard from the concourse, and a young girl came scurrying out of the restroom complaining of the smell, how dirty it was and telling her mother that she would rather wait to use the restroom until she got home.
Hazel then entered the bathroom to take some pictures of the conditions inside and was verbally accosted by a woman who claimed that Hazel didn’t have the right to photograph the restroom because it was her own “private property.”
Hazel’s photo from inside showed the woman standing next to a shopping cart loaded with belongings. It is unclear how she was able to get the shopping cart into the Jamaica station without attracting the notice of the station agents, or how long it had been there, though conditions inside the restroom would suggest it had not been serviced for several hours.
One stall with a broken toilet paper dispenser had been rigged with caution tape so that the tape held the roll.
Hazel, who has been reporting these problems for over a decade, and has seen her neighborhood get cleaned up time and time again only to return to a state of entropy, said this whole process is getting very frustrating.
Last May, she received a copy of a letter from former Councilman Leroy Comrie addressed to Joseph Raskin, assistant director of Community and Government Relations for the MTA.
While the restroom conditions improved for a while after the letter was delivered, they have slipped slowly back into their previous state of filth, and not without consequences for those who reported the problem.
“I started reporting on this problem because the bathrooms were horrendous,” Hazel said. “I continued to report, and there was a little bit of improvement, but because we complained, we were punished. They have closed the bathroom from midnight to 5 a.m. and before we started complaining about it, it was open 24 hours a day.”
After leaving the Jamaica Center MTA station, Hazel then showcased a crumbling LIRR trestle at the corner of Guy Brewer Boulevard and Archer Avenue, which she has been told by the LIRR will not be fixed.
“All of the feedback that I have gotten is that [the LIRR] doesn’t have the money in the budget, or it doesn’t have the work assignment to take care of the trestle,” Hazel said. “Recently, I have spoken to the president of the Long Island Railroad, Helena Williams, and she said that she would look into it, but as far as she understands, nobody has to clean it [and] there has never been anybody to clean the trestle walls.”
Hazel and Moretti highlighted several abandoned homes and lots in the neighborhood, and after spending an afternoon in discussion about these issues, it was clear to see that the crumbling façade of the LIRR support is just the beginning of the problem in Jamaica.
One uninhabited home, owned by James Fobbs, according to one of about a dozen violation notices posted on the fence and front door at 107-58 164 Street, is surrounded by trash that spreads out into the street.
“We do not know if Mr. Fobbs is dead or alive, however Mr. Fobbs has more rights than the people who live here,” Hazel said. “Therefore, this remains the same until we make enough noise. The last protest that we had, this was cleaned up, and as you can see, after the protest it’s back again to square one.”
While Hazel has been reporting these issues – and several others – to her elected officials for several years, she is dismayed by the response she has been getting from her representatives.
In a Jan. 26 post to CleanUpJamaicaQueens.wordpress.com, Hazel’s partner in cleanup Joe Moretti outlines a phone conversation between Hazel and a liaison to the Queens borough president, during which she was allegedly told by the representative that “Jamaica is our problem and we have chosen to live here and in its conditions.”
A spokesperson for the Queens Borough President addressed this remark in a phone interview, saying, “We’re looking into what was said during that conversation, but really what may have been said is less important than the substance of the issue, which is that Ms. Hazel has valid concerns about what is going on there regarding the sanitation issues and the other problems she’s identified.
“The Borough President’s Office is working with the police, sanitation and DEP to improve the situation,” the spokesperson added. “That’s the important thing for us, for her, and for everyone involved.”
Moretti, who joined Hazel’s cause shortly after moving to Jamaica from Long Island City three years ago, felt that one of the key issues being faced by Jamaica residents is there is little communication between government agencies. More importantly, there is no sustainable effort being made by the city government to keep Jamaica clean and livable.
“We don’t want you to just come out here and remove an abandoned car, or we don’t want you to just come out here and clean up a lot,” Moretti said. “We want to you to enforce the law so that this does not continue to happen over and over again, otherwise it’s just a band-aid over a gaping wound.”
**CORRECTION: An earlier edition of this article identified CleanUpJamaicaQueens.wordpress.com as CleanUpJamaicaNow.wordpress.com.