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Swept away

Jackson County sheriff's deputies and Community Justice crews spent Tuesday cleaning up garbage and rousting stragglers from homeless camps along the Bear Creek Greenway.

Deputies said they sweep parts of the bike path every year to help make it safer for families and preserve its natural areas. Last year's cleanup tackled the stretch along South Valley View Road in Ashland; this year's effort targeted the path between Central Point and Medford.

Deputies had spent the past two weeks combing the woods near the Greenway, warning about 20 homeless campers they would be evicted soon.

On Tuesday, the deputies found numerous trash bags with spoiled food, soiled clothing and blankets and other garbage. One abandoned camp contained the remnants of a tent the occupants had tried to set on fire after they'd been asked to vacate.

"It's not what somebody wants to see when they're out on a hike with their family," said Deputy Phil Cicero. "They dump their trash right into the creek at times."

Some camps were relatively tidy, however. One had fenced-off bathroom facilities and Christmas decorations that had yet to be hung up.

Crews cleaning up the sites said what they encountered was shocking.

"It's disgusting," said 21-year-old Matt Ohlhausen, who was working off community service hours for a probation violation. He pointed to a site where others had cleared away a pile of garbage and soiled clothes. "You had, like, three wardrobes over there."

Deputies passed out resource cards to the transients, showing them where they could find services and shelter.

"We're trying to give them options," said Deputy Jeff McGrath.

Transients Dan O'Neil and Dave Brown said those options might not be enough. Both have been homeless off and on for years and were evicted from their campsite Tuesday.

O'Neil, a former carpenter and mechanical engineer, and Brown, a formal long-haul truck driver, said finding a safe spot to camp is important. They said the dangers of being assaulted or robbed while living homeless are very real.

"It always makes me wonder where I'm going to go next because nobody wants me anywhere," Brown said.

Both agreed that garbage along the greenway have gotten out of hand, though, and said they make an effort to keep their sites clean.

"It's very frustrating," O'Neil said. "It's hard enough to survive, let alone having to move."

By the end of the day, crews had cleared seven camps and filled a large Dumpster with trash. They also found a bicycle and several shopping carts that will be returned to their owners, said sheriff's spokeswoman Andrea Carlson. No arrests were made, she said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at rpfeil@mailtribune.com.

Daniel OíNeil, left, and David Brown stand outside of their camp along the Bear Creek Greenway Tuesday in Central Point. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore