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Report: Five steps to reduce trash at encampments

Seattle's Navigation Teams cleans up a homeless encampment in Northgate in January 2019. (Carolyn Ossorio, KIRO Radio)

In a report released Monday from the city auditor in Seattle, five steps were identified for the city to help reduce or prevent trash accumulation at unsanctioned encampments, as well as provide a better tracking system of trash accumulation.

Seattle Navigation Team cleaned over 1,500 tons of trash to close out 2019

While the Navigation Team has been removing trash from unsanctioned encampments, the recommendations included in this report are directed at the city as a whole.

The report states that “this recognizes that the complex issues surrounding unsheltered homelessness require a systematic, coordinated, multi-pronged response.”

The Navigation Team is part of an approach created in 2017 to address unsheltered living in Seattle. The 38 person team includes 11 police officers, two police sergeants, 17 civilian city staff, and eight contracted outreach workers.

The city of Seattle has spent millions of dollars removing millions of pounds of trash in the past few years. In 2018, the Navigation Team removed 2.4 million pounds of trash from unsanctioned encampments, and in the first three quarters of 2019, the team removed over 2.3 million pounds, according to the report.

Unsanctioned encampments pose environmental and health risks that could be improved by increased access to enhanced shelters by increasing capacity or the number of shelters. Since the Mayor’s budget for 2020 did not include funding for expansion of current shelter capacity, the city auditor’s report is proposing five steps for the city to improve hygiene and sanitation by addressing trash accumulation.

The first of five steps in the report is to track trash accumulation. Reporting is a key component of reducing trash, to identify areas of accumulation and track progress, especially in green-spaces or areas with barriers to reporting.

Navigation Team clean-ups are resource-intensive, with staffing, equipment, and disposal costs. Certain spots, “hot spots” as referred to in step two, have required repeat clean-ups. Fifteen sites accounted for 32 percent of clean-ups in 2017-18, according to the report.

Trash is not only a public health risk to the communities that live there, but also to the general public. Additionally, environmentally sensitive areas are at a heightened risk for contamination. The third step considers the environmental impact of trash, aiming to protect urban streams and watersheds.

The fourth step focuses on the disposal and recovery of needles, a common component of trash at unsanctioned encampments. The report gives examples from other cities, including Boston, San Francisco, and Ottawa with unique strategies to, often daily, recover used needles.

Deterring metal theft is the final step of the report. One proven strategy to deter theft is for metal recycling businesses to reduce incentives for theft, according to the report.

WA Democrats look to put another $115 million toward homeless crisis

This audit focuses on checkpoint 2.3: Assessment of Strategies to Prevent Trash Accumulation from the November 2017 Navigation Team Reporting Plan, as requested by Councilmember Lisa Herbold.

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