In the last few months there’s been a lot written about the problem of trash left by homeless people and some locals. People leave their trash and human waste in places where they camp in the woods, on the river bar and around businesses in town.
A local resident, John Casali bought a home on the river just five minutes outside Garberville several years ago and subsequently found out there was a homeless camp not far up the river, that seemed to be the source of the trash he’d find floating down the river and catching on trees, and outcroppings after rains.
After investigating further he found out that there were actually several homeless camps in this area and decided to attempt to clean them up and rally some of the homeless population to help him by paying them. They would bag up garbage and then put it in a big pile out next to Redwood Drive for a day or two or three, so that people would see what a big problem it is and also to help fund his efforts. We’ve all seen John and his crew sitting in chairs next to the pile collecting donations from people who appreciated the efforts.
The trash problem gets worse in the fall around pot harvest time when the transient/homeless population at least doubles in size due to the lure of possible pot trimming jobs. In the fall of 2011, at a meeting held at the Garberville Vets Hall, called to discuss problems associated with the homeless, John said, “I’m done. I quit.” He said that no one helps and no one cares.
I was one of the people who appreciated John’s work and would give him donations, and I was at the Vets Hall meeting that night. In an effort to at least partially help fill the void left by John’s ending his cleanup efforts, I said I’d help.
Apparently John and others misunderstood me because I never told John I wanted to replace him, only that I would help a couple days a week. I’m retired, I live 35 minutes from town and I’m not really interested in coming in five days a week, as John did so diligently.
I like our town and I take ownership. Two days a week I come to town with trash bags and a pick-up stick in tow, and spend a couple of hours picking up trash until I have a full truckload. Paul and Kathy, who own the used bookstore keep the small DeMulling Park across from the bookstore picked up, so I include the DeMulling Park trash in my loads each week as well. I pick up mostly along the 101 corridor between Garberville and Dean Creek, and also go into a few homeless camps and trailheads of camps on those two days, generally Tuesday and Friday.
When I first started doing this over a year ago, I paid the dump fees at the Eel River Transfer Station (ERTS) out of pocket. After three months, when I’d paid close to $1,000 in dump fees for my little project, I found out that, with verification, the county may pay for the dump fees.
So I contacted the county. Now each time I fill the truck with trash from the two pick-up days, I photograph the full truck, have it weighed at the transfer station and email the photo and the weight, as verified by the ERTS, to the county. Then ERTS bills the county for the disposal fee. It’s a simple, easy arrangement.
A few weeks after I’d first started this project, John started back to doing it again. He’s done a lot of trash pick up over the years from the camps and river bar, but the CHP told him he needed to quit leaving large piles of trash on public roadsides because it’s against the law. So John quit again because he said that displaying the trash that way helped his fundraising and now he wouldn’t be able to do that.
In doing this project, I see people who are run down by the experience they’ve found themselves in. There are people who are just down on their luck and camp in the woods more or less permanently around here, and others who go from town to town. There are people with serious problems like drug or alcohol addiction, schizophrenia and a range of mental and emotional problems, and probably some hiding from the law. There are vets with PTSD, people with no family or friends who will put up with them anymore, and some people who have no family or friends period.
You can’t go very far in this country without seeing homeless people. They may not be immediately visible but they are pretty much everywhere, especially in towns that are right on, or immediately off the freeway as are Garberville, Fortuna, Redway, Eureka and Arcata, all of which have homeless populations, as do all big cities and most towns that are along the freeway.
People who are homeless and without a vehicle travel by thumb or by bus along the freeways. There seems to be no “one-size-fits-all” fix for the homeless problem, but they are human beings and I’m in favor of more low-income housing programs and mental health facilities to help people in need. Trash is just a byproduct of the homeless problem.
As individuals most of us have different things we do as volunteers for the greater good. I don’t like seeing trash, so while my knees are still relatively good, picking up trash a few hours a week is one of mine. Others help too, including homeless people, who see me and join me sometimes. Brian, who works for the Merchant’s Guild, does a great job. There are organized volunteer efforts large and small, like the Adopt a Highway program, Adopt a Beach programs, and many more.
An easy way to help and get a little exercise is to bring an extra bag with you when you make a dump run and stop to bag up trash left on the river bar or anywhere you find it on your way there. Not everyone has time in their daily lives to do this but when people notice you making an effort, they’re more inclined to start doing it as well. If we all do a little, it makes a difference.
Meanwhile, I’ve known John for 25 years. Our daughters grew up together and are still the best of friends. There’s no doubt that John has put in a lot of hard work and opened our eyes. John just let this problem get to him a little too much and probably needs to take a break. Let’s all take a break from the blame game and think of how we can help instead. It’s all good.