By Mike Kinney
Daniel Barth has seen first hand the sharp increase in homeless encampments across Richmond, a problem that has shined a light on the growing struggles of individuals lacking stable housing and healthcare, and also on the degrading health and safety of the city’s public spaces.
But when the community comes together, the former problem can become part of the solution to the latter, according to Barth, executive director of Safe Organized Spaces (SOS! Richmond), an organization that aims to establish safe and secure living situations for unsheltered individuals in the city.
Within the last two months, SOS! Richmond’s Street Team has removed 450 bags of trash, almost 100 pounds worth in each bag, in areas impacted by homeless encampments along the eastern stretches of the Richmond Greenway. That’s quite a lot, but they’ve had help. About 20 to 30 percent of the trash removal was done by unsheltered individuals living on the Greenway, Barth said.
It’s part of an ongoing 6-month pilot project along the Greenway funded in part by a grant from the Chevron Environmental and Community Investment Agreement program. SOS! Richmond Street Team is sponsored by TentMakers Inc., a Community Housing Development Corporation. The pilot project isn’t just about encouraging homeless individuals to clean up after themselves, according to Barth. The project aims to create a safe and healthy environment on the Greenway that offers individuals connections to the resources they need to obtain employment and housing, while maintaining the Greenway as an attractive corridor for neighbors, Barth says.
“As you know, we have folks who are unsheltered all over Richmond; they are especially by the train tracks, freeways and off ramps,” Barth said. “We chose the Greenway [for the pilot project] because it is probably the safest place for the unsheltered to be in Richmond.”
The Greenway cleanup effort is part of SOS! Richmond’s broader goal to establish a city-sanctioned location for the city’s unsheltered population to connect to resources.
Barth said the Street Team’s cleanup efforts have been keeping the Greenway beautiful and also inspiring those living in area encampments to help out and to connect with resources.
“We work at changing people’s behavior slowly and gradually by doing what we are doing, like cleaning up the Greenway strip,” he said.
“We’ve been doing this only for about a month-and-a-half now. During the holidays, we were out here cleaning up and people noticed. The importance of being present is number one. And safety is [accomplished] by our presence here.”