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Truckloads of trash hauled out of greenway

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It’s called the Bear Creek Greenway, but with all the trash being hauled out last week, it seemed anything but green.

Cleanup crews conducted one of the biggest garbage removal operations in recent memory after three months of illegal camps turned parts of the Greenway and Bear Creek in Medford into something resembling a landfill.

“This is the first weeklong cleanup we’ve ever done,” said Medford police Sgt. Steve Furst.

Debris from some of the camps, including needles and drug paraphernalia, spilled into the creek at various locations.

“We were starting to make progress until the COVID thing blew up on us,” Furst said.

Emergency services have responded to seven fires along the Greenway since the start of fire season.

To reduce the risk of fires, the city has mowed grassy areas and removed debris.

Crews removed up to 60 yards of trash a day as they went up and down the Greenway for five days straight.

Officers went camp to camp asking homeless people if they had garbage they wanted to get rid of and offering to connect them with social service organizations.

With the governor’s stay-in-place order still in effect, the police are not ordering the homeless to leave their campsites quite yet.

Prior to the pandemic, Medford had seen significant progress getting rid of campsites and garbage on the Greenway.

Organizations such as Rogue Retreat, ACCESS, the Gospel Mission and others have been going with officers at night to offer services to the homeless so they can start thinking about whether they want to continue living rough.

Furst said it’s hard to calculate how many camps have been erected along the Greenway in Medford, estimating it’s probably more than 100.

He said officers have been keeping track of which campsites are occupied and which have been abandoned.

One apparently abandoned campsite near Railroad Park, guarded by a lonely cat meowing and rubbing up against officers, had the remains of a fire, food and electric tools. Debris from the campsite floated in the creek.

“This camp has been checked on multiple days,” Furst said. “If we don’t clean up those piles of trash, there are so many environmental hazards.”

Some of the homeless kept their campsites as tidy as legal campsites in parks. Others appeared to be collecting their trash in bags, though bags of trash were sometimes opened and the contents were strewn about in an effort to locate something of value.

Rogue Disposal donated two 30-yard dumpsters that were stationed in the parking lot next to the park. Officers oversaw the cleanup operations, directing crews to abandoned campsites.

Popular areas for campsites include under bridges, with scores of people living in fairly close quarters.

Once Gov. Kate Brown lifts the stay-in-place order, police will be asking people to leave their campsites.

Furst said conversations are underway to create an urban campground, possibly on a property on the east side of the Greenway near Biddle Road, which would provide a place for people to relocate.

“It’s still an idea,” he said. “They’re working on it.”

City officials have previously discussed putting dumpsters along the Greenway but were concerned that providing that service would add legitimacy to an illegal activity.

The city did install hand-washing stations along the Greenway at the beginning of the pandemic, but one of the stations was vandalized.

Many of the homeless people living along the path seemed perplexed by the police presence and work crews.

Tianna Carrier, who had a campsite near Railroad Park, asked Furst whether she had to leave her campsite, and he told her she could stay but offered to pick up any trash she might have.

Carrier said she didn’t have anything to cart away but said she was planning on moving her campsite to Phoenix.

“I get high anxiety around a lot of people,” Carrier said. “I’ve been out here since I was 14, and now I’m 41.”

She said she’d like to find more permanent housing but said she’s a domestic violence victim who has struggled over the years. Carrier said she would look into the Kelly Shelter and Hope Village.

A group of people who referred to themselves as “observers” expressed concern about the way the police were handling the clean-up operation.

“They came out in the middle of the night and take their stuff,” said Felix Williams, who described himself as a rural Jackson County resident.

Georgia Doremus, who handed out drinks to homeless people, said it’s traumatic for the police and social service organizations to come out at 1 a.m. to wake them up.

“They’re evicting people from their homes,” she said.

Doremus said she couldn’t understand why Rogue Retreat was participating in an exercise to traumatize the homeless with such a big police presence.

“They rolled in 10 cars deep,” she said.

Furst said police were not kicking any of the people out of their campsites, and he said that many of the people aren’t around during the day, so police come at night with social service organizations to make sure they can contact the residents of the camps.

He said more outreach was planned to help prepare people for the day they’ll have to relocate away from the Greenway.

Matt Vorderstrasse of Rogue Retreat said staff members have been going out with police at night in an effort to locate the occupants of the campsites.

“It’s that time of night when you can actually locate people,” he said.

The outreach is basically putting out the word that at some point in the future, the occupants of the campsites will have to move to another location.

“It’s more of an FYI visit,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneMedford police Sgt. Steve Furst, right, walks through a homeless camp Thursday near the Medford Railroad Park.
Medford police organize crews to haul out 60 yards of trash a day from the Bear Creek Greenway.{ }Video by Jamie Lusch and Damian Mann