The convergence of littering and the homeless has come together in a positive way at Coyote Creek in San Jose, CA. Since last October, a group that’s been dubbed the Coyote Creek Homeless Stream Stewards have been able to remove over 24 tons worth of trash from the area.
The effort, while still in the early stages, has resulted in more than $5,000 worth of private donations being used to purchase gift cards and provide items for what’s known as a “trash raffle.” The upcoming raffle in September will give away two bikes.
Given the transient nature of homelessness, the number of those taking part in the effort tends to fluctuate. That number usually doesn’t go above 20, though those take take part are fueled by both the chance to win $10 gift cards and also simply live in cleaner surroundings.
The idea was developed by Amanda Fukamoto, who has camped near Coyote Creek for years. During that time span, she noticed that not only the homeless were leaving trash but also those dumping illegally.
One of Fukamoto’s potential solutions to the issue would be to strike a deal with the homeless. In exchange for living in so-called “tiny houses” at Coyote Creek, the homeless would continue keeping things clean in that particular area. Those houses would only be approximately 350 square feet and could be moved, if necessary, since they’ll be atop wheels.
Fukamoto sees the project as a chance to give people down on their luck some dignity.
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.
In San Jose, along Coyote Creek, a new project has begun development. Amanda Fukamoto has been working with the Santa Clara County Water District to develop a new project that would help provide homeless people tiny homes in exchange for their help in reducing the pollution around the creek and surrounding areas.
The idea was initially born from Fukamoto’s frustrations with the existing pollution in the creek. After rallying other homeless people to her cause, she realized that it wasn’t enough to simply remove the existing pollution. Simply by staying in the area, her and the other homeless people were actively contributing to the amount of pollution in the creek on a daily basis. As a result, Fukamoto began discussions with local government agencies to find a suitable and reasonable alternative to the current situation.
In fact, through discussions with Santa Clara County Water District, Fukamoto and government officials have begun looking at a series of small, movable “homes” that have been slowly gaining popularity across the country. As the trash-removal initiative grows in popularity, it’s easy to see how this type of system could evolve into something that operates not just on the west coast, but on a national level as well.
For those concerned about the associated costs of such a program, it turns out that providing small, mobile homes to the homeless is a significantly cheaper alternative to paying for more expensive labor. By having the homeless clean up local pollution, it not only restores hope to people without any, it also builds a stronger community and keeps the environment clean.