READING, Pa. – Reading City Council voted Monday night to approve an agreement between the city and the Hope Rescue Mission for its residents to help clean the downtown area around Penn Street from Second to 11th streets.
The action is the city's first move to reassign some of the work that was previously done by the former Downtown Improvement District, the organization which was charged with keeping the downtown clean. City council decided late last year not to renew the DID.
Originally, the resolution put on the table defined the areas to be cleaned as those formerly serviced by the DID. However, several councilmembers objected to the wording.
Councilwoman Lucine Sihelnik pointed out that the city administration said the Hope Rescue Mission would be focused on the Penn Street corridor.
"The Downtown Improvement designation was far beyond the capacity of what was described," Sihelnik said. "I will not support this if the word 'DID' is there. We're moving ahead and not replacing DID with these individuals; it's a partnership."
Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz agreed that it was important for the city to move forward in its thinking and remove the reference to the DID.
An amendment with a change of language was approved prior to voting on the agreement.
Goodman-Hinnershitz emphasized it was important to note that the agreement was a true partnership between the city and the Hope Rescue Mission.
"In no way are we using people who are homeless in an advantageous way," Goodman-Hinnershitz said. "We need to frame it in a positive way since the Hope Rescue Mission's mission is to help better the lives of its residents."
Sihelnik stressed that the workers — known as "Hope's Clean Team" — will not be volunteers, and that they will be paid by the Hope Rescue Mission.
Frank Denbowski, the mayor's chief of staff, said the agreement is for the city to pay the Hope Rescue Mission $15 an hour, per worker.
Denbowski said that because the city budget was approved before the dissolution of the DID, the city had allocated $175,000 for downtown initiatives. The money paid to the Hope Rescue Mission will be deducted from those funds.
"This fits in the mayor's vision of building public partnerships," Denbowski said. "This is just a beginning, with an understanding that we will build beyond this."
Denbowski noted that the Hope Rescue Mission is not taking sole responsibility for cleaning the downtown but that its workers complement city staff.
"We will not know the exact schedule until we begin this combined effort," he said. "The responsibility is not unilaterally on the Hope Rescue Mission."
In other business, council heard a presentation of Mayor Eddie Moran's safe street initiative.
Earlier in the day, Moran publicly announced the two-year, $10 million project that will use liquid fuels funds for street-paving projects. Stan Rugis, capital projects manager, explained the details of the initiative to council.
"This year, public works systematically reviewed all primary, secondary, tertiary and minor and half streets," Rugis said. "The mayor's vision is now looking for community input."
Rugis said the city will conduct a "pothole blitz" and attack every pothole in one day during the second week in May. Residents are urged to contact the Reading Citizens' Service Center at 877-727-3234 to report potholes.