HOUSTON (AP) — Houston wants its residents to stop treating the city like a dump.
Officials and police have spent years fighting back against people who leave mattresses, furniture and massive amounts of debris on streets or in empty lots, rather than disposing of them properly, the Houston Chronicle reported (http://bit.ly/1ffgbQs ).
Schoolchildren sometimes have to walk by mounds of garbage and old tires in a city that has global aspirations. City officials said they worry the problem scares off investors and reinforces negative perceptions of some neighborhoods.
"You have people who come into our neighborhood and disrespect our area," said city councilman Jerry Davis. "The cost in the quality of life is immeasurable."
Stephen Dicker, the senior officer of the Houston police's environmental investigations unit, said he's had cases where contractors who are supposed to tear down a building have dumped it whole on another street.
"It's just amazing what people will do to save a buck," Dicker said.
Police have made hundreds of arrests, leading to the issuance of fines, sometimes after pulling receipts out of trash heaps to track down offenders.
According to Texas Southern University researcher Robert Bullard, the problem is bigger in historically black and Latino neighborhoods. Bullard told the newspaper that Davis' district — which is 94 percent black and Latino — reported the most calls about illegal dumping of any district in the city.
Part of the problem is that the city historically builds all of its landfills and most of its incinerators in minority neighborhoods, leading to the perception that those areas were good places to leave big trash, Bullard said.
The city is spending $250,000 on about 25 cameras set up at prime dumping locations to try to catch the activity. The city's solid waste department also offers free stations for people who don't want to wait for a monthly heavy trash pickup day.
Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com