Ossie Randle, a 58-year-old elementary school teacher, is angry.
Actually, he has many reasons to smile because he lives in a nice neighborhood: fresh colored one-story houses, nice gardens with flowers and freshly cut grass. But anger seeps in when he stands outside his house just around the corner of Northeast Second Avenue and 133rd Street in North Miami.
“Look!” Randle shouts, pointing to the ground on the grassy swale next to the street. It’s a plastic water bottle.
“Thrown out of a car,” Randle complains.
The litter kicks off his weekly round of trash collection. Randle checks for discarded items on the street, front lawns and sidewalks. His self-imposed trash tour takes place a couple of times a week. Randle has taken it upon himself to pick up after others. “Because we have a massive trash problem in North Miami,” he says.
On this collection day, he picks up several empty water bottles, beer cans, plastic bags, tobacco pouches, a wine bottle, an egg container. He is armed with a long trash picker and a hamper. A brown straw hat covers his head and dark sunglasses shade his eyes as he strolls through the neighborhood in a T-shirt and long shorts — a lonesome urban cowboy cleaning up the streets.
Born in Louisiana, Randle has been living in South Florida for 28 years. When he moved to his North Miami home four years ago, he immediately noticed a problem: The area is surrounded by mounds of trash. So two or three times a week, he heads out with his picker and hamper to collect it. In minutes, he fills giant bags with refuse.
Randle says he wants North Miami to do a better job of keeping public streets and sidewalks clean, like the neighboring Miami Shores.
Walking toward the canal that flows near his home, he shouts again: “See there!”
Cans, bottles and plastic bags have washed up along the banks. A neighbor told him that he once saw a dead dog floating in the canal. After just 10 minutes on his trash tour, Randle's hamper is full.
Judy Hemery, who has been living in the neighborhood for 30 years, said traffic has increased over the past few years. More traffic, more trash.
Hemery agrees with Randle’s complaints of filth. She tells the story of her brother who was visiting her for Easter one year. He always was concerned about Miami being a dirty place. So Hemery made sure to tidy her garden before the visit. Everything was clean when her brother and his family arrived. But when he was about to leave, a small box had been thrown in front of Hemery's house.
“It was a condom box,” she said.
What makes Randle and Hemery so upset is this: There are trash bins everywhere.
“But nobody uses them,” Randle says. “There is something going wrong in this city when people don’t care about the environment.”
He blames city leaders: “If you go to Miami Shores, which is only some blocks away, it is a difference like day and night. Miami Shores is clean.”
Cyncia Raymond, public information officer for the North Miami city manager says: “We constantly monitor all areas for trash and litter.”
Raymond says two officers routinely check the area and the city has started “canal inspections on a regular basis.” A restaurant and a gas station in the neighborhood have been reminded to ensure their canal bank is clean.
Raymond also points out that according to the North Miami Municipal Code Article III, each homeowner is responsible for keeping the swale area clean. That means not only the sidewalk but also the grass strip next to the street.
How can the problem be solved?
“With the cooperation of the property owners, motorist and city departments all working together,” she says.
Raymond’s answer makes Randle angry again.
“It is very unfair so say that we have to solve the problem here on our own,” he said, adding that children need to be taught at school how to get rid of trash properly. As a teacher at Melrose Elementary in Miami, Randle takes his students out on the school grounds often.
On trash tours.