If you walk through the heart of Downtown St. Louis, you might be struck by all that you don’t notice… graffiti, debris, overflowing trash cans and more.
This is thanks to the Downtown St. Louis Clean Team, established in 2002 as an aggressive sidewalk and street level cleaning program. Fully funded by the Downtown St. Louis Community Improvement District (CID), the Clean Team works from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day to keep Downtown beautiful – from removing graffiti on buildings and trash on streets and sidewalks, to acting as extra eyes on the ground who can alert the city or local police of issues that require assistance.
The “men in purple,” as they’re often called, start each morning with a simple motto: “Have a nice day.” For Stacey Johnson, a nearly 10-year member of the Clean Team and Assistant Team Leader, this sets the tone for the day.
“It can be a stressful job, but it reminds us of our duty to make sure our residents have a nice community and feel safe,” he explained.
What’s most remarkable about the Clean Team, however, has nothing to do with clean streets.
Every member of the Clean Team is placed in partnership with St. Patrick’s Center, a Downtown organization working to provide opportunities for self-sufficiency and dignity to people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Many members of the Clean Team have overcome the struggle of addiction and homelessness.
Stacey has been clean from addiction for about nine years.
“I was down for many years, but St. Patrick’s Center helped me get my life back in order,” he said. “They saw in me something I didn’t see in myself. It was the spark plug I needed.”
He says the Clean Team gives him a sense of purpose.
“Us guys in the purple, we have a great job,” said Stacey. “We are part of Downtown, helping make it a nice place to visit.”
Stacey takes his job seriously. And his threshold for success is as high as can be.
“I look at it like we’re trying to win the Super Bowl,” he said. “We want to be the cleanest city in the USA. That’s our Super Bowl.”
When it comes to success of metropolitan areas, Stacey might be onto something. Studies show that clean, ordered streets and well-lit, maintained public spaces can discourage crime and reinforce a sense of safety.
But the value of the job goes beyond cleaning up. “It’s not about me,” he says, it’s about helping people – Stacey’s favorite part of his work.
“If we can help you, you should feel comfortable coming to us,” he said. “I remember a moment when a lady was totally lost, eleven blocks away from her car. After we escorted her back, she loved us like superheroes.”
Achieving that Super Bowl trophy is about the people too – and teamwork – not unlike today’s football champions.
“We have to rely on our team. We’re stronger when we work together,” said Stacey. “It doesn’t matter how much there is to pickup Downtown. If we have the full crew, in four or five hours, we’re going to have it right back lookin’ pretty.”
For more information on the CID and its important efforts to make Downtown an attractive place for businesses, residents, and visitors, visit downtownstl.org/downtown-cid.