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Homeless camps put Alaska creek cleanup future in question

May 14, 2019

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska environmental cleanup event is considering whether the safety of its volunteers is being put at risk by homeless encampments, officials said.

The Anchorage Waterways Council is considering the effects of the makeshift camps on the annual Creek Cleanup event, The Anchorage Daily News reported Saturday.

In the last two years a growing number of homeless camps have created an increasing safety risk. Volunteers, including children, have encountered far more human waste and syringes along their cleanup routes than in the past, according to the council.

“It is definitely exploding,” said Executive Director Cherie Northon.

The cleanup collects an estimated four to five tons (3.6 to 4.5 metric tons) of trash each year from waterways throughout Alaska’s largest city, officials said.

The municipality of Anchorage keeps track of homeless camps through an online reporting system. But because the data is not made public there is difficulty in knowing exactly how many camps exist, officials said.

The waterways council would consider halting the cleanup program in the future due to potential hazards.

“I think people’s safety is above and beyond what happens in the creeks,” Northon said.

The council advises volunteers not to approach homeless camps and to give them a wide berth, even if that means not cleaning the creek nearby, Northon said.

Abandoned camps create a more difficult decision, said Adam McCullough, a council board member.

“They kind of say use your best judgment, and if you don’t feel safe definitely don’t touch anything,” McCullough said.

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Information from: Anchorage Daily News, http://www.adn.com