East Harlem merchants campaign would use homeless to clean up trash-strewn stretch of filthy E. 125th St.

Eastern part of Harlem's Main Street is dirty. Bus from Wards Island leaves hundreds of homeless in the neighborhood every day.


By Tanay Warerkar and Michael Feeney

An East Harlem merchants group has hatched a radical plan for easing a persistent garbage problem along the filthiest portion of bustling E. 125th St. — paying the homeless to clean it up.

The New Harlem East Merchants Association, which was created only this year, has started raising money for the bootstraps plan, which will involve some of the hundreds of homeless men and women who arrive on the sketchy portion Harlem’s main street every day on the M35 bus from the shelter on Wards Island.

"We do need the help," said Kwanza Smith, executive director of the merchants group. "The East Side (of E. 125th St.) has a reputation of being very run down and dirty."

The $75,000 project would be a joint initiative between the merchants association and the Association of Community Employment Programs for the Homeless, which provides the homeless with training and job placement.

"This will take care of two problems: cleanliness and providing options for the homeless," Smith said.

The program looks to start with six to eight homeless participants, who will clean from Fifth Ave. to Second Ave. as well as E. 124th St. and E. 126th St.

Smith said the filth and clusters of homeless men is so bad that merchants say it discourages customers from patronizing their businesses.

"They have to get rid of all the bums," said E. 125th St. Avi Aronov, 30, owner of Y2K. "People are scared to walk between the Metro North and the No. 6 train, and that's only one block. A lot of (expletive) happens here."

Jim Martin, the executive director of the homeless program, hasn’t fully signed off on the proposal, but said the homeless participants would get stipends.

"We want to put people back to work. The poorest of the poor," he said, noting all participants would screened for drug use and criminal background checks would be completed.

Homeless men coming off the Wards Island bus told the News they like the sound of the cash and worK.

"That would be a great opportunity to get me out of my present situation,” said John Faulkner, 68, a former construction worker. “It doesn't matter if it is cleaning up trash. People have to work."

Alberto DeLeon, 74, said he would also do it.

"A job like that could help me get out of the shelter. I'm willing to do anything really," he said. "I get food and a bed to sleep in but I want to have my own place. And I can't think of anyone getting on this bus who wouldn't want to take a job like that."

The campaign has currently raised nearly $30,000.

To donate, visit gofundme.com/NHEMA125TH.