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Everett mom spends weekends picking up used syringes

(File, MyNorthwest)
LISTEN: Take Back Our Neighborhood co-founder Cate Harrington on the trash and needles in her community

Cate Harrington spends some of her free time picking up after drug users.

Related: Seattle is hiring to clean up after encampments

For about two years, Harrington told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that she has spent her Saturdays with other Everett residents cleaning up used syringes. They call their group “Take Back Our Neighborhood.”

“Every week we pick an area, and clean,” Harrington said. “It may be an alleyway that looks particularly bad or a business that seems to have had a lot of activity in the last week, or it’s just a known hang out place that is problematic. So we go there on Saturday and we just clean. First, we rake to look for any paraphernalia; needles. We don’t want to get stuck by those as we pick up garbage. We safely remove them and put them in a Sharps container. Then we go through the garbage and clean up the area.”

“We’ve gone and cleaned North Middle School,” she said. “We went there the week before school started … we found so many needles everywhere around that school. When you take a look at that, and our kids are going to be coming to school (later) that week. That week, a group of students were coming to voluntarily weed the grounds.”

Saturdays with used syringes

Two years ago, after noticing the problem, Harrington and other parents brought the issue to city hall, asking the city council to do something about the trash and used syringes. She said the best response she received was a couple of city employees picking up litter from time to time. Her cleanup crew opted to tackle the issue on a wider scale.

“We find needles everywhere; crimes,” she said. “We have people sleeping, which isn’t so bad, but they are sleeping everywhere and they leave a lot of debris behind. They do a lot of stealing and a lot of drug paraphernalia is left behind. And we live in a residential area, there are a lot of children here. We have numerous schools around, and parks, businesses, and a library.”

The cleanup crews range in size, depending on the week. On a slow day, they pick up between 11-15 syringes.
And as long as the trash keeps showing up around Everett, she’ll be out there every Saturday.

“I know that it’s a really common assumption that government or law enforcement, or some other organization needs to take care of this problem and fix it,” she said. “But they’re not that big either. We all need to work together.”

“Watch our own back steps, clean up our areas to make it more inviting for kids to play in an alleyway, and make it less inviting for anyone looking for a dark corner to use drugs or to steal,” Harrington said. “We all need to take responsibility. Even if we don’t want to be out there cleaning up the streets, we can start cleaning up our own backyards.”

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