Street concerns, diversity dominate York City mayor's first neighborhood chat

Maria Yohn
York Dispatch
York City Mayor Michael Helfrich, flanked by Business Administrator Michael Doweary, left,  and Interim Police Chief Troy Bankert,  holds his first Neighborhood Chat at the Door of Salvation Development Center, Tuesday, April 10, 2018.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Street cleanliness and safety, welcoming more members of the Hispanic community and reducing homelessness were the core issues that dominated York City Mayor Michael Helfrich's first "neighborhood chat" with his constituents.

Helfrich’s two-hour meeting was held Tuesday, April 10, at the Door of Salvation Community Development Center Inc., 315 N. Mulberry St.

About two dozen residents attended the event that catered to members of the northeast neighborhood of York City.

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The public was given the opportunity to participate in a question-and-answer period. Residents viewing the event on Facebook Live also were invited to ask questions.

Street cleanliness: One woman approached the podium to complain about the city's trash collection company, whose truck often dumps trash on her street.

"I've observed some of the same stuff," Helfrich said.

The mayor said that Republic Services, which conducts business as York Waste Disposal, has been very cooperative with the city on many occasions. However, he acknowledged that the loose trash has been a recurring issue that will be brought up during contract negotiations.

The city entered into a contract with York Waste Disposal for curbside collection May 1, 2013. The contract expires April 30, 2021.

A Facebook Live commenter asked whom residents should contact to report roadkill on their street, and the mayor said that they should call the Department of Public Works at 717-849-2248 to have it removed. But if the deceased animal is a dog, residents also should call police to investigate, he said. 

He also warned that city employees will not go into backyards or otherwise enter private properties because of liability reasons.

Street safety: Street safety concerns were  mentioned during the meeting, as one resident told the mayor she was concerned about the handicap ramps at the corners of city streets, especially those on Philadelphia Street.

The resident said that water tends to pool in and around the ramps. When the temperature drops, those areas freeze over and cause a safety concern, she said.

She told the mayor that she has even gone out and shoveled the areas herself out of concern for elderly and disabled residents.

Helfrich thanked her for taking the initiative to take care of those areas and said that members of the city's Department of Public Works have been receptive to going out and examining those areas.

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Welcoming diversity: One resident spoke about the city's growing Hispanic population and said much of it has been because of natural disasters and economic downturns in other places. She asked Helfrich how they could make York City a more welcoming place for its diverse residents who might be fleeing desperate situations.

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Helfrich applauded the work of the community development center where the neighborhood chat was located, citing the services they've provided the Hispanic community, including before- and after-school day care.

He also noted that Troy Bankert, interim chief of police, is the first bilingual person to hold that position and that applicants who are bilingual have a decided edge when applying for city government positions.

Interim Police Chief Troy Bankert, right, talks about progress of the York City Police Department during Mayor Michael Helfrich's first Neighborhood Chat at the Door of Salvation Development Center, Tuesday, April 10, 2018.  John A. Pavoncello photo

In fact, he is currently looking for an executive assistant who can speak Spanish, he told the crowd.

"If the government can't speak to 30 to 40 percent of our population, we can't be doing a good job," he said.

Combating homelessness: Another Facebook Live viewer questioned how the city was combating homelessness and what resources were available for a person experiencing housing instability.

Helfrich said that unstable housing situations, which could range from living on the street to moving from house to house, plague many students in the York City School District. 

The mayor cited St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at 329 W. Market St.,  as an example of a community organization that is taking the initiative to reduce homelessness.

According to Helfrich, the church is starting a new program to provide housing for the homeless by using their own church building. The church hopes that other city churches will participate so they can move homeless families from church to church until they can secure permanent housing.

The mayor also cited Bell Socialization Services as a resource, noting that there are too many children who are enduring trauma in their private lives that hinders their ability to concentrate in school.

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Often, the school district is criticized for students' performance when many of the causal factors, including various forms of trauma, stem from their personal lives, he said.

"The fact is, the kids are going through hell," he said.

He also noted how strongly intertwined the York City School District is with the city itself.

"The school district's problems are our problems," Helfrich said.

The mayor did note the progress that has been made via the city's Bureau of Health, which has been sending more nurses into homes to provide pregnant women and at-risk mothers with basic needs, mental health services and early childhood education.

"We have to find a way to make sure these young kids are getting the services they need," he said.

Background: The event was the first of four "neighborhood chats" planned by Helfrich, who will hold them at various locations in the city. The mayor will announce more dates and locations later.