Homeless people armed with gloves and brooms are cleaning up the messes left by other homeless people in downtown Medford.
A pilot project got underway this week in which homeless people are tackling the dirtiest of jobs, picking up everything from drug bags and cigarette butts to used condoms and dog poop.
“I think it’s a great idea for the homeless to get out and clean up a lot of the area that they made a mess of themselves,” Medford resident James Cox said. “It helps them be productive and learn a skill.”
The “Clean Sweep” project, sponsored by the homeless advocacy organization Rogue Retreat and the city of Medford, has homeless volunteers pushing two utility carts around downtown, picking up messes, washing windows, sweeping sidewalks and even dealing with stuff nobody wants to get near.
The city has provided up to $5,000 to buy the two carts and supplies, and volunteer homeless people and others who have to do community service are donning green reflective vests and working for two to three hours in the morning, from Monday to Thursday.
Brandie Barnes, a case manager for Rogue Retreat, supervised her one-woman crew Wednesday, but she did more than supervise.
“I just can’t stand around and expect them to do everything,” she said.
Barnes picked up cigarette butts, swept out areas and found trash under bushes and benches.
She concentrated her efforts at Mayor’s Plaza, across the street from City Hall at Eighth Street and Oakdale Avenue.
“We’ll probably have to spend all morning here,” she said.
Barnes didn’t seem too grossed out by what she was finding, though she did show a moment of disgust by what looked like a huge pile of phlegm.
The plaza area, adjacent to the courthouse, looked like a popular hangout. One homeless man was being arrested by police, while another was still sleeping on the concrete next to the fountain around 8:30 a.m. The area was filled with hundreds of cigarette butts, and homeless people appeared to have created their own makeshift trash can next to a concrete bench.
Downtown Medford merchants have been irked by the messes left behind by some homeless people and have asked the city to do something about the harassment, illegal camping in doorways and other issues.
The program should help downtown merchants keep the sidewalks and entryways clean and give homeless residents an opportunity to help the community and get to know the business owners.
Medford resident Vicki Thompson, who has found herself living out of a truck recently, was passing by while the cleanup was taking place.
“It’s a great project,” she said. “It’s very messy here. They mess it up for the clean ones.”
Chris Hardy, a 67-year-old woman who has been transitioning from homelessness with help from Rogue Retreat, was out volunteering with Barnes.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s helping the city. It’s helping the homeless. It’s helping the homeless get a better name.”
Hardy also approached her rather disgusting job with zeal. “It’s a lot of cigarette butts, it’s a lot of dog poop.”