Amanda Fukamoto saw a problem — two problems, actually — and decided to do something about it. For years, San Jose’s Coyote Creek has been a dumping ground for trash. The banks and the creek itself are clogged with castoff items of all sorts, from clothing to tires. A lot of it comes from the growing homeless population that lives along the banks.
Fukamoto asked herself what could be done to stop the pollution — and what could be done to help the homeless. She found the solution with the Coyote Creek Homeless Stream Stewards program. The group has removed more than 48,000 pounds of garbage from the area around the creek and from the creek itself.
What of the homeless? They’re the ones helping to clean the area but this is a short-term solution. As long as the homeless stay along the creek, the trash problem will remain as well. Fukamoto has another plan that will take care of both issues at once.
She’s proposed a program that will create a community of tiny houses that the homeless will be able to stay in, in exchange for keeping Coyote Creek and its surrounding area clean.
The program is still in the planning and permission stages. In the meantime, Fukamoto and associates have implemented other initiatives to keep the creek banks free of trash, such as raffling off gift cards and other prizes for turning in bags of trash.
Although most people hold homeless people responsible for causing blight and damage to areas where they live, one homeless woman in San Jose is trying to change this perception. Amanda Fukamoto lives in a homeless encampment near Coyote Creek. Since the fall of 2015, she’s handed out trash bags and encouraged the homeless to keep the area clean.
According to the San Jose Mercury News, her efforts appear to be succeeding where other programs failed. A prior program to install trash cans along the waterway was discontinued by the City of San Jose. The city argued the trash cans encouraged the homeless to stay near the creek instead of using city programs and services. Periodic sweeps have been used to get homeless out of the area, and cut down on the problems with litter, but they never brought permanent change.
The issue presents a significant problem for the Santa Clara County Water District. $1 million of the agency’s annual budget has gone to pay for the removal of trash left by homeless people staying on district land.
According to Fukamoto, her goal is to prove homeless people can serve as part of the solution, rather than simply being viewed as the root of the problem. She believes most homeless people are willing to support efforts to keep land around the creek clean. It is her hope the district and the city will allow the homeless to continue to live near the creek, in exchange for their helping with cleanup efforts.