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Medford homeless work to keep downtown clean

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MEDFORD — A dedicated cleanup crew quietly marked a year in service last week by braving several days’ worth of rain to clear the downtown streets of debris.

By some estimates, the five days per week program has cleared two tons of garbage from Medford streets.

While the program, a partnership between the city of Medford and Rogue Retreat, began as a means of battling stereotypes about homeless people contributing to the garbage and litter issue downtown, Clean Sweep has evolved as a way to help homeless community members develop work skills, earn a job reference and receive $10 gift cards each day they work.

A handful of the original workers have moved on into independent employment and more stable living situations.

Medford resident Tony Valade said he began helpig on the cleanup crew while battling a year of homelessness. Valade said being part of the crew gave him a sense of contributing to his community.

“I started doing it four or five months ago. It’s not hard, and it’s volunteer work, so I get credit for my EBT, and it feels good to help out. We also get gift cards for places like Wendy’s and stuff like that,” Valade said.

“We just go out and clean up the town, Valade added. “Most of the mess, people think it’s all from the homeless, but we’ve found that it’s from the bars. We do this in hopes we can dispel some of the stereotypes. It makes me feel good, even though it kind of shocks me how disgusting some people can be.”

Valade’s roommate, Jose Solano, wandered down Main Street Thursday in a neon vest, pushing a cart alongside Valade.

“It’s just fun. It helps us out. It helps the city out. Gives us one more way to be busy,” Solano said.

“Other homeless, when they see us cleaning up their messes, they get kind of mad at us since they don’t want to admit they make some of the mess, but if we’re asked to clean it, we’re going to clean it. People don’t clean up after themselves, it’s kind of a shame.”

Clean Sweep manager Sylvia Davis said the small band of workers, which averages a half-dozen crew members each weekday for two to three hours, have been warmly received by businesses and made a noticeable improvement to the downtown.

Area businesses contribute gift cards, funds and other items to help compensate the group.

“Most programs that start off kind of dwindle down, but this one kept growing, and we kept getting more and more homeless helping us, so we’ve expanded the areas we’re cleaning up, and I think it’s really appreciated by the community,” Davis said, adding that the program will eventually utilize a van to clean a bigger area.

Davis said local business support means a lot to the crew members.

“Local businesses have gotten used to us doing this, so they’ll come out of their businesses and thank them and say how they really appreciate what we’re doing,” Davis said. “It’s heartwarming to see them doing something positive and being appreciated and enjoying it.”

Davis said the program could expand to other communities in Jackson and Josephine counties. Crew member Josh Nichols, who has transitioned from homelessness since he began with the program, said the program provided a cleaner downtown and means of dispelling stereotypes.

“I was homeless when I started, and Sylvia helped me get into the tiny homes, and now I’ve got an apartment on my own,” Nichols said Thursday while sweeping at the corner of Main and Holly.

“I’ve seen how a lot of people really look down on us and think a lot of the problems are because of us. I just know that I’m out here doing my best and trying to better myself and move forward in life. I think that’s all anybody can do.”

Davis said the Clean Sweep program is recruiting volunteers to go out at 9 a.m., Monday through Thursday, and at 8 a.m. Friday. The group meets behind City Hall, on the corner of Oakdale Avenue and Eighth Street.

To volunteer or to donate to help keep the program running, call Davis at 541-499-0880, ext. 4020. For more information, see www.rogueretreat.com/downtown-clean-sweep/ or www.facebook.com/pg/CleanSweep1998/posts/.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Joe Santos and Tony Balade work on cleaning the sidewalks on Main St in downtown Medford.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Josh Nichols, Joe Santos, Tony Balade, Phil Johncock, Sylvia Davis and Larry meet in downtown Medford for a morning clean-up run.