Liaison officers connect homeless campers with cleanup event
Police in the city of Hillsboro are trying a new tactic to clean up unsightly homeless camps.
For months, the city has been looking at new ways to help people affected by homelessness. The city employs two homeless liaison officers, Jason Becker and Mike Abshier, tasked with working with local transients to access resources and assistance.
Last week, the officers had another idea that might help local people affected by homelessness: The pair were helping at a cleanup event at Clean Water Services and Dairy Creek Park, site of a local homeless encampment.
In a statement from the city, Becker and Abshier asked people sleeping in the camps to lend a hand to help tidy up the area. In exchange, the city offered gift cards to local restaurants.
About a half-dozen people took the officers up on their offer, helping to bag garbage.
"This is a great way for our Crisis Intervention Team to make connections, build relationships and establish a rapport with those we are seeking to help," Becker said. "It's also an opportunity for us to educate people in these encampments about the time and work that it takes for city employees to clean up trash that's left behind."
For years, homeless people in Washington County have had few options when it comes to getting rid of unwanted items. Using someone else's garbage can or waste container without permission is a crime, and without access to regular trash pickup, disposing of garbage and other waste can be nearly impossible. Items are often left behind on the side of the road or in abandoned camps, officers said. Such campsites are typically the job of local police departments to clean up.
The new program was launched alongside two other recent proposals to help Hillsboro-area transients. In May, police toured the city with clipboards, asking homeless residents what the city could be doing better.
Officers interact with the homeless on a daily basis, Abshier said.
"When police show up, it often puts people on their heels," Abshier told the Tribune in May. "They aren't sure if they're going to get arrested. Our job is just to talk to people. We're trying to contact them (but) not on an enforcement level. We just want to have a presence and ask, 'What can we do for you? We're here if you need us."
Last month, Hillsboro and Metro, the regional government which, among other things, oversees the region's garbage and recycling system, joined forces on a new trash collection program that provides free garbage pickup for homeless residents in the Hillsboro area.
Officers distributed garbage bags to local camps. The bags can be filled and left in public parks, sidewalks and other publicly owned property, where they will be picked up by city or Metro employees.
"Hopefully, the people who helped us clean this homeless encampment will remember this experience and help keep the area clean in the future," Abshier said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.