Amanda Fukamoto, a 56-year-old homeless woman, had posted camp along a part of Coyote Creek – a creek that was victim to many years of illegal dumping. However, if you were to look around Fukamoto’s camp, her neighbors’ camps and the river beside them, you’d never think that it was once littered to the brim.
Upon further investigation, you would see homeless moving heaps of trash in bags up the hillside, away from the creek. City workers would then come take the trash bags away. What’s their motivation? A brilliant effort by Fukamoto.
“Our goal is to have trash-free creeks,” Fukamoto said. “We’re doing big things.”
Fukamoto and others proposed a solution to clean the place she called home – she started coordinating with other homeless, homeless advocates and city officials. The solution would not only remove the trash from the creek and nearby areas, but it could also solve one of the problems behind littering.
Homelessness was one of the causes behind the loads of trash, but Fukamoto believed the homeless could also solve the issue at hand. In turn, she hopes that the city will provide “tiny-houses” and allow the homeless to live in them as long as they continue to make the area beautiful again. It’s a “two birds with one stone” idea – eliminating litter and homelessness at the same time.
Although the idea is pending approval due to complications it may bring, it hasn’t stopped Fukamoto from leading volunteering homeless to clean the area. Since late Fall, efforts led by her have removed at least 24 tons of trash from the creek and vegetation – over 48,000 pounds.
With help from Richard McMurtry, a retired program director from Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition, the 56-year-old woman was able to unite the community for the grand effort. McMurtry had soon hired Fukamoto to form and coordinate the Coyote Creek Homeless Stream Stewards. Fukanoto’s friends/neighbors all knew that she was the one for the job. When anyone needed additional trash bags to help collect or information to volunteer, they went to her.
“I have people coming to me saying, ‘Do you have bags? I need bags!'”, Fukamoto said. “They’re excited. Everybody is hustling right now.”
Additionally, donations have allowed the Stream Stewards to hold raffles, where every two filled bags provides a ticket. Each ticket is an entrance for a chance to win prizes such as $10 gift cards and bicycles. As enough bags accumulate, Fukamoto calls district employees to take the bags away.
For some, the raffle doesn’t even come to mind when collecting the trash.
“It’s not just about the raffle,” said Alvin Crane, one of Fukamoto’s friends. “I wanted to help out my neighbor.”
As the water district spends about $1 million each year combating littering and picking up trash, the amount spent could be reduced if there is less homelessness. Since the homeless generated much of the trash that was left on Coyote Creek, creating a housing solution based around cleaning the area as Fukamoto’s plan suggests just may be effective. Of course, any of the ideas being presented must be flushed out to consider liabilities and complications that may arise.
Whether or not the “tiny house” plan falls through, Fukamoto only wants those in her community to be included in future efforts – all to keep the creek clean.
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