On a sidewalk next to a small grocery store on the city's east side, just a few blocks off the Gulf Freeway near Telephone Road, Martin Chavez watches as one of his crew members uses a roller to cover over a scribble of blue spray paint that's appeared overnight on a large wall.
"This is something we come across all the time. This is actually a local gang here. I learned to recognize most of the signs. This is definitely gang-related."
Chavez has been following a large box truck, loaded with paint, high pressure sprayers and chemical cleaners as it makes its way around the 16 square miles that make up Houston's East End, looking for the latest graffiti. Since the program started in 2000, he estimates he's helped clean-up 5000 graffiti sites.
"When we started the project here, the deal was there was graffiti on almost every street corner. After we did an initial sweep and it got cleaned-up, we found out that we didn't need to be out here five days a week. Sometimes it was just three days a week. A year later, we found out it could only take us one day to clean-up. I feel like we're winning the battle because there's less and less new graffiti every day."
It's not a program that's unique to the East End, but it's working there, with free graffiti abatement for homeowners and business owners. This is Greater East End Management District President Mary Margaret Hansen.
"We look a lot better and I also thing it's also a little bit like housekeeping. You notice it when it's there, but when it's not, it's just a good feeling and you can't quite point to it. Yes, we do have people come up to us and say it looks so much better here in the East End."
On a larger scale, Houston's Building Services Department along with the city's Parks Department routinely clean graffiti, a pet project of Councilwoman Sue Lovell, who has seen taggers mark-up homes and businesses near her home in the Montrose.
"I think the most important thing for me is really the arrogance of some people in the city that feel like they can do what ever they want to another person's property. So I think coming back very quickly and covering it up and saying this is not going to be tolerated sends the message that that kind of arrogance and really that kind of vandalism will not be tolerated."
The East End's new graffiti abatement truck was made possible through community donations. You can find out more about the graffiti program through a link on our website, KUHF.org.