PITTSBURGH — There’s been so much in the news and swirling around social media about the state of downtown Pittsburgh. We’ve reported on crime, our cameras have captured the filth, the epidemic of homelessness and we’ve talked to businesses fed up or moving out.
But that’s not the whole story. There is so much good going on downtown and so many people hard at work, shining up the steel city. Channel 11 went along with the “Clean Team” as they do the dirty work to make our city a brighter place. We watched crews pressure wash on Smithfield Street, Strawberry Way and Exchange Way. The soapy water once described as brown or yellow becomes clear. The team comes across fecal matter, syringes and drug paraphernalia daily.
When talking about the program with Renewal, Michael Youngworth tells Channel 11, “This gives me purpose.”
As these men scrub and sweep, they are washing away their past. Once incarcerated, the men have been released to alternative housing. They’re now earning their place back in the community.
Ty Rozier is the groundskeeper supervisor at Renewal. He oversees and leads these men on their journey to re-entering society.
“If one man can do it, another man can do it,” Ty tells Channel 11. “When they first started, they had an incident, a little hiccup in their career.”
Rozier says they start at 6 a.m. and go until 2:30 p.m.
“Sometimes it’s blazing hot, some days it’s raining on us,” Rozier says. “These men are out here every day in the middle of it.”
When we stopped by Exchange Way, an alley off of 10th Street between Penn and Liberty Avenues, the men described what it was like before they started cleaning.
“This was very severe back here,” Youngworth said. “We were scooping things up with shovels “When we first started, it was debris up to my knees,” Rozier adds. “My guys were picking up the trash and rats were running across their arms. They were jumping up.”
The same alley had been pressure washed 24 hours earlier, but in that short time, more needles piled up and we saw human waste on the sidewalk and behind dumpsters. Rozier says his team is earning their place back in society and they’re making a difference as they do.
“They are not the same men they were when they had their incident,” Rozier said. “They’re new men, they’re better men, they’re bettering their lives every day and this is a first step for them.”
Michael Youngworth is living proof. He started with Renewal’s Clean Team in March.
“Everybody makes mistakes, so it’s great to be given an opportunity to make amends for those mistakes,” Youngworth said. “This gives me purpose and a reason to get out of the bed in the morning.”
Youngworth successfully completed Renewal’s program. He now works for Renewal in the morning and in the afternoon, he has a job with Pittsburgh’s Downtown Partnership — polishing up the city.
“It is a union job. It’s a life-changing career opportunity and I love it,” Youngworth said. “I’m very grateful. I owe that to Renewal.”
“They’re the ones making a difference, they’re putting in the work,” Rozier added. “They see the before and after and they feel that sense of pride when they’re done. They get home they’re tired, they’re dirty, but they know I worked hard today.”
These crews do make a wage, which helps them navigate the responsibilities of life and often businesses make sure they’re fed lunch as a thank-you for all they do to keep the streets clean.
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