Lakeshia Pressley

Lakeshia Pressley, member of the Overtown Beautification Team, is one of the many workers who daily trek around the neighborhood picking up trash and debris. 

Almost a year since a major clean-up of an “opioid den” that flourished under the 836 Expressway in Overtown, the area has seen a semblance of order.

Blocked off streets, the din from the bridge construction and a crew daily picking up trash have kept the area relatively clear of debris – a stark difference from the hotbed of lawlessness that existed under the overpass up until last October.

Parents and community leaders cried foul when they saw the illicit drug use and open lascivious acts children had to see while on their way to and from nearby schools.

With the school year set to start next Monday, Overtown children will walk around clean streets and a better-looking neighborhood. What’s more, the unsheltered homeless population numbers are down and the overall presence of Overtown is maintained by an Overtown Beautification Team. 

Known for their signature blue shirts and trekking through the neighborhood with a rolling trash can in one hand and a broom in the other, they diligently pick up trash and debris Monday through Friday.  

With sweat glistening on her forehead, Overtown Beautification Team member Lakeshia Pressley swept the formerly blocked-off area near Northwest 14th Street Tuesday morning. 

“It has gotten better,” Pressley said.

The Southeast Overtown/Park West Community Revitalization Agency instituted the Overtown Beautification Team, which is in charge of sweeping trash off the streets and maintaining cleanliness in the neighborhood.

The Overtown Beautification Program employs local residents to maintain the Northwest Third Avenue Business Corridor and surrounding areas and provides on-the-job training in the area of property maintenance and landscape services, said Director Neil Shiver. “The program positively contributes to the maintenance of a clean and inviting appearance in the redevelopment area,” Shiver said.

Residents still litter and throw trash in the streets, Pressley said. But the conditions of the “opioid den,” she believes, has improved since last October’s clean-up effort.

“Some of the people have moved away and it is better than it was,” Pressley said. 

Last October, discarded syringes, feces, trash, mattresses, makeshift tents and personal property belonging to the homeless were strewn along several blocks along Northwest 14th Street, directly underneath the expressway. The result was described as an opioid den, creating possible health hazards for the homeless and neighborhood residents, and exposing children to a grim reality. 

To combat the situation, Northwest Third through First avenues and surrounding areas were closed off, blocking vehicular and foot traffic. City, county, and health department personnel assessed the blocked-off area and a major clean-up and decontamination effort ensued. Large furniture, mattresses, drug paraphernalia, and other items were taken off of the streets. Health officials provided counseling and shelter information to residents who lived in the den, which numbered around 60 to 70 persons.  

Community leaders say conditions in the so-called “opioid den” have improved since it was cleaned in October.   

“I definitely think it has gotten better,” said Tina Brown, executive director of the Overtown Youth Center, located less than a mile from the blocked-off area. 

“I don't see as much activity as we used to see, especially in the parking lot.”

As part of her role in the youth center, Brown worked with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to increase crossing guard presence in the area. The Overtown Youth Center is flanked by Booker T. Washington Senior High and Frederick Douglass Elementary schools, as well as the Overtown Optimist Club, a public park and a public library.  

“We place a huge emphasis on school crossing guard,” Brown said. 

Brown said that from a visibility and health perspective, the area surrounding the youth center is better than before. 

“I think the beautification is part of keeping the neighborhood safe,” Brown said.

Two months shy of a year later, numbers show the unsheltered homeless population in Miami is down 4 percent, according to the Homeless Trust. The trust estimates 1,008 unsheltered homeless people are scattered throughout Miami-Dade County, of which 638 were counted in the city of Miami. That is down from 665 in 2018, according to the trust.

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