As Operation Brownsville continues, Pensacola's west side community gets the special treatment
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As Operation Brownsville continues, Pensacola's west side community gets the special treatment

May 11, 2023

For the past several weeks, the City of Pensacola and Escambia County have led a community-wide, intensive focus on the west side neighborhood of Brownsville.

Operation Brownsville launched in April after a series of roundtable discussions — convened by Sheriff Chip Simmons — on reducing gun violence in Escambia County.

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A recent check on activities in the community shows that cleanup is an essential part of the overall effort.

"This is one of the most historic neighborhoods in all of Pensacola and you know we got to keep it clean," said Escambia County Commissioner Lumon May, whose District 3 seat includes most of Brownsville.

On this day, the neighborhood trash is being cleared out as a part of Operation Brownsville's coordinated cleanup of the Brownsville North Neighborhood.

Throughout the day, crews from Escambia County and the City of Pensacola have been making the rounds, picking up trash and debris that's been left on the roadside.

Once collection takes place, the trucks return to a temporary staging site off Cervantes Street near the Brownsville Community Center to unload each haul before heading back out.

There's a lot of yard vegetation, broken furniture, and old mattresses, among other items.

The cleanup totals are not yet available, but the recent Neighborhood Cleanup of Brownsville South in March produced nearly 68 tons of debris, including 258 old tires.

Unfortunately, Commissioner May says they’re finding that much of the refuse in Brownsville is the result of dumping.

"We understand that people are on fixed incomes, limited resources," he said. "So, we know that they don't have the means of taking things to the dump. Sometimes they don't have the money to go to the dump."

This neighborhood cleanup, combined with extensive code enforcement efforts that have been featured every day of the eight-week campaign, are helping. Additionally, Escambia County has begun addressing the trash issue by strategically placing dumpsters throughout the neighborhood.

"That's a lot more efficient than the man hours and the staff that we have to use quarterly," May explained. "Just putting dumpsters and educating the community about the importance. Maybe you have to walk two or three blocks or maybe you have to garbage bag it up or put it in your car. But, we are gonna have dumpsters so there's really no excuse."

And, according to May, those who continue to trash up the neighborhood will be subject to enforcement.

"We want to send the message that we’ll cite you, we’re going to lien you, and we’re going to hold you accountable," he said.

In addition to ongoing cleanup efforts, Operation Brownsville — which wraps up next week with the Sheriff's movie night — has included a series of Community Conversations on various topics such as drug and opioid awareness, and business development and entrepreneurship. The Operation Brownsville calendar shows the final discussion, focused on gun violence awareness for teens, is set for Tuesday, June 12.

The Florida Licensing on Wheels (FLOW) Bus was brought to the community for two weekends. As a result, the Escambia County Tax Collector's Office issued 25 driver licenses, 13 identification cards and two registration renewals.

Florida Power & Light (FPL) has been beefing up street lighting and the Pensacola Police Department and Escambia County Sheriff's Office have stepped up their law enforcement presence.

"I see them patrolling all the time in my neighborhood," said long-time resident Deborah Brown. "Before they started patrolling the area, somebody got killed behind me. I don't know who it was, but I heard the shots and saw all the commotion, the police and everything. But, now it's gotten better."

As a result, Brown feels safer. And, thanks to investment in the community, she says her home is much improved.

"I’ve had my roof put on for free from the (Brownsville) Community Redevelopment Program and my house has been painted," she said, adding that she's now waiting for tree trimming around her house.

Brown and a group of friends, who earlier took part in the new yoga program for seniors at the Brownsville Community, have just finished a follow up walk around a paved track in the neighborhood.

Also, to improve the walkability of the neighborhood, new sidewalks are being paved throughout.

"Are ya’ll gonna sidewalk all of Brownsville?" asked resident Nora Demos, catching Commissioner May during his interview with WUWF at the corner of Shoemaker and DeSoto streets.

Demos specifically wanted to know if she could expect to see new sidewalks around her home on Z Street.

"Claire will look on the map and tell you and if it ain't on the map, guess what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna put it on the map, alright," he responded.

Demos also took the opportunity to ask May about road paving and construction of new covered bus stops. Overall, she says she's pleased with all the enhancements in her community.

"What they’re doing is wonderful," she said. "They are improving it so much for us."

May also expressed enthusiasm about the neighborhood's many improvements, beginning with the $2.1 million dollar community center and all the new programs offered since it opened in 2017.

"We have our summer employment program had a sign up here and will probably employ 175-200 kids over the summer," he continued. "We just finished that house behind us with AMI Boys, our block by block program, teaching kids construction skills. We acquired this old masonic lodge that we’re going to put the library inside of there."

Additionally, May touted the recently installed Lee Street Sewer Project and other recent investments in the Brownsville Community.

While May is encouraged by the short-term impacts of Operation Brownsville and its overall goal of reducing gun violence in the community, he's remained focused on the long view.

He says spending money in this neighborhood and keeping it clean and safe are key to changing the culture and revitalizing what he refers to as the "western gate" to the Downtown area.

"I think that it's a hidden jewel," he declared. "I think many of our ancestors and forefathers and leaders knew how valuable it was. Unfortunately, people moved out. But I think that this neighborhood is probably going to resurge, and it's going to be more vibrant than ever before."