This Seattle Times story opens up with a group of volunteers cleaning up garbage around a homeless camp and the homeless person, named Alec, who created all the mess tells us why he, and all of the garbage, is there:
“This feels really awkward,” he said. “It’s my mess. I’m a drug addict — I hate to fall back on that — but I’ll just be brutally honest. I can’t get my (expletive) together.”
A homeless drug addict unable to get his stuff together is why this particular public site is covered in garbage. But why are volunteers needed to clean it up? It seems the answer to that question is a bit of a mystery. Reading through the Seattle Times story you won’t find a clear explanation for why the city is doing less trash collection now than it was back in 2017, but clearly, something has changed:
In 2017, the city picked up over 3,000 tons of garbage, mostly during massive camp cleanups in and around The Jungle, a large homeless encampment that sprung up under Interstate 5. In 2018, they picked up a little over 1,000 tons, and 2019 is on pace to be the same.
While the city has launched some new cleanup efforts, including distributing bags at tent camps and doing more cleanups around clusters of RVs, Seattle is cleaning up nowhere near the amount of trash it was two years ago.
Here’s a chart showing the difference:
The new program, which involves distributing purple trash bags to tent camps has mostly been a bust:
As of September 2018, SPU had distributed 18,545 trash bags, and only 4,821 were returned full of trash. Even some of the ones returned had been ripped apart by people looking for needles with a bit of heroin left, said Erickson and others with knowledge of the program.
So it turns out that people whose lives are dominated by addiction or mental illness to the point that they are living out of doors in tents aren’t neat freaks. Who would have guessed? The leader of a local business group, Erin Goodman, says she believes the city has been overwhelmed by its own good intentions toward the homeless and the outcome isn’t good for anyone:
“Efficiency and effectiveness are being held at bay by emotional feelings and concerns,” Goodman said. “And I don’t have an answer for you what we should do, but I think the current situation at the vast majority of these encampments is unsanitary and unsafe for the people living in them.”
I don’t know what the solution is either but I can see what the problem is, at least part of it. Too many people in Seattle have decided that it’s better to clean up for drug addicts than to pressure them to clean themselves up. So long as that’s the case, there will always be addicts willing to accept that self-destructive bargain.