It was the busiest lot in all Ocean Beach this morning – August 21st – at 7:30 on the 4700 block of Santa Monica Avenue – across from OB Elementary. Church volunteers, homeless people, and community activists were gathering for an early morning breakfast and scheduled alley clean-up. Patty and I arrived at that moment, half asleep but ready with our work clothes.
A while later and by time breakfast was served – a regular thing every Saturday morning at this site – a hundred people had gathered. Some guys were singing and playing a guitar, med students from UCSD were taking blood pressures, and houseless people were collecting food, soaps, and other personal hygiene items handed to them by a half dozen good-natured souls who had arrived early and stood behind tables.
A good proportion of the crowd were standing around waiting for the go-ahead for the alley clean-up. Finally, one of the pastors led us in counting off numbers to see how many were there for the work. Thirty people shouted out numbers and we were organized into four groups.
Then, once another local pastor had given us a sermon, we were ready to go. (It was a Baptist Church and Inter-Faith organized event and they have a right to briefly hold the audience captive in explaining a Bible and Jesus story. If the Kiwanis had organized it, they would have had a right to proselytize us about the Kiwanis. Same with the Mainstreet Association, or the Masons, or the Town Council. The churches and their coalition, the Ocean Beach Inter-Faith Community had organized it – with some kind of support from the Town Council and Mainstreet Assoc.)
The folks ready for the clean-up seemed to be mainly volunteers from the various churches. Colleen from the Green Store was there representing the local environmentalists. Craig Klein was there representing the merchants. Patty and I were there for the OB Rag. Glyn Franks and Jack Hamlin were of course there. And I don’t know the names of all the folks who had showed up with work gloves and a few rakes and brooms, but it was mostly an older crowd. I didn’t see that many individuals who had been at the first community forum on homelessness back on July 6th.
After all the ceremony was over, we were grouped into the four work crews, each given at least one alley, and set on our way – everyone had gloves and plastic bags, and some of us had brooms and hand-held “picker-uppers”. We had one homeless guy in our group, and he worked hard.
What can you really say about alley clean-ups? The alleys themselves are dirty, dusty, have weeds along the buildings, lots of cigarette butts, abandoned clothing, broken glass, spilled paint, a squashed pigeon – but really – the alleys we cleaned were not as dirty or as bad as we had anticipated. They really weren’t. But we cleaned a whole bunch – right around the business district. Someone made the comment about our little group, that it was “Christians, Jews and atheists working together.”
After about an hour and half, our bags were full and we were hot and tire. But for that time, all over the Newport Ave area, small grouplets of people bending over were seen up and down the back streets of the coastal village. Several people had thanked our group as we went about our dirty job.
Originally, the alley clean-up was meant to be a way for the community to come together – and work together on something positive. That it was. Yet it was only part of the community. But the busiest part of the community on this Saturday morning.
Here is the full gallery of our photos from today. Remember to click on the photo for a larger image.