Homeless Hired To Improve Sanitation, Relations With Eugene Businesses

Aug 1, 2019

Business owners downtown are often tasked with cleaning up trash and waste left by transients. As KLCC’s Brian Bull reports, a new program aims to tackle that problem.

A stairwell right outside the Eugene Chamber of Commerce is a frequent spot for homeless people to gather. The steps are often covered in grafitti, litter, and discarded items including bandages and undergarments. These can be dangerous due to potential biohazards, or if they impede evacuations during emergencies.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Starting this month, a team of six homeless people will clean up after others who’ve camped in parking lots or other spaces next to businesses. 

Arwen Maas-Despain of Carry It Forward sits near a site frequented by transients, which has often been cleaned up by a pilot group of homeless people.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Arwen Maas-Despain is Executive Director of Carry It Forward, that’s developed the program with the Eugene Chamber of Commerce.   She says an encounter with a homeless man inhabiting a space between several dumpsters led to a discussion with the Chamber, which in turn created this initiative.

“All of the people are coming in at a training wage of $12 an hour," she tells KLCC.  "Until they’ve gone through our full safety training and hazmat training, and then we’re raising it to $14.”

Maas-Despain says she hopes this program demonstrates that homeless people want to give back to the community, and improve relationships between them and downtown businesses. 

Past conflicts have stemmed from trash, human and dog fecal waste and urine, or potentially dangerous items such as drug paraphernalia or needles left outside business owner's storefronts or doorways.

Previously, the clean-up initiative was done on a pilot basis focusing on the Chamber’s parking lot and a stairwell.  That’s where we spoke with Tiffany Edwards, Director of Business Advocacy.

Tiffany Edwards, Director of Business Advocacy for the Eugene Chamber of Commerce.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“We check this regularly for people who might still be here," says Edwards, pointing towards steps covered in grafitti, as well as used bandages, discarded clothing, and a pair of battered sandals.

"As well as just belongings and things like that, that could be a hazard if you’re trying to leave the building in an emergency.”

A homeless man naps in downtown Eugene.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

Interested businesses can contact Carry It Forward for clean-up services.  Maas-Despain adds the clean-up team will also try to make sure personal belongings are returned to their owners, versus immediately disposing of them in a dumpster.

Funding from the City of Eugene will keep the program going for at least a month (perhaps two, says Maas-Despain) with organizers hoping other funding sources can be found soon.

Copyright 2019, KLCC.