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Monday, September 20, 2021

Low-income residents, neighborhoods face long history of neglect

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Sometimes it comes at 2 in the morning. Sometimes it’s a few hours later at 5 a.m. or 5:30 a.m. Either way, Leslie House can be sure the garbage trucks that show up three times a week will wake her up.

House lives in an apartment on North Meridian Street near 38th Street. She’s next to a commercial trash pickup site at another apartment building to her south.

The commercial designation — as opposed to residential — is important because the Department of Public Works (DPW) doesn’t deal directly with commercial sites. That’s up to the individual business and, in this case, Republic Services. (City ordinance considers any site with more than four units as commercial.)

DPW contracts stipulate residential trash can be collected after 7 a.m., according to a department spokesperson.

House, 46, moved into her apartment in 2012 and said she’s complained to Republic so many times that the company lists her as the account manager for the other apartment building.

A representative for Republic said the company does not provide collection logs to show when drivers are at certain stops, and DPW doesn’t track that information for Republic drivers. Republic did not respond to an interview request or requests for other information.

House said she’s talked to some drivers and has been up in the middle of the night to record them on her phone, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. The earliest she remembers a truck showing up is 1:30 a.m.

“I’ve taken to where I just put ear plugs in my ears and I put on my sound machine to block out the noise,” she said.

House is not alone in feeling disrespected when it comes to public services in low-income neighborhoods that are mostly African American. That’s been the norm for decades, and even cities that want to catch up are behind.

A little less than two miles southeast of where House lives, in a section of Martindale-Brightwood, the city recently announced a three-year investment of $3.5 million that is focused on homeownership but will also include upgrades for sidewalks, porches and siding.

James Wilson, founder of Circle Up Indy, said the Lift Indy program should be considered a starting point for investment in the neighborhood — so long as it truly benefits people who are currently there.

“Overall, our community has been overlooked,” he said.

Some issues — potholes, for example — are ubiquitous, but Wilson and others who live and work in low-income neighborhoods feel their slice of the city is last in line. The cracks in the sidewalk get bigger; the potholes get deeper.

It seems to be an understood part of life in a city that the low-income neighborhoods will have worse roads, sidewalks, drainage and so on, and the problem is not unique to Indianapolis. In Oakland, California, an analysis from the city showed its three lowest-income areas also had the largest share of streets in poor condition.

Even long histories of resilience don’t ward against chips in the collective pride of a community that feels neglected.

“There is no pride,” Wilson said. “There is no hope, and there is no value. You depreciate the feelings of pride to try to get by.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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