Rules About Cleaning up Trash Left Behind at Homeless Encampments?

Question & Answer (Edhat)

Wondering what the laws, rules, or other guidelines are for cleaning up trash left behind what was a homeless encampment but now appears to be abandoned.

I’m asking specifically if it’s on county land, say, next to a creek.  Is it OK to pick it up yourself (I’ll willing to volunteer)?  Or is it strictly a county maintenance issue?

How long do you need to wait?  If nobody’s around and it hasn’t moved in a week is it fair game?

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What do you think?


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  1. I’d think it first depends on what type of “trash.” If clearly garbage, have it and thank you! If there are personal items (lawn chairs, tents, sleeping gear), it might be subject to abandonment laws. I’d think after a week of no one being there it should be ok to remove, but consider someone might be coming back (from jail, hospital, etc) and hoping their belongings are still there.

  2. Sacjon is right. I am homeless. Here is my .02 and I will elaborate on the point. I await the thumbs down.

    If your goal is to be ethical do the following. If there is garbage. Yes. Pick it up. If it is clothing, medication or anything of value take a piece of chalk . . . It could be a rock on the ground or something and write on any surface near by where you put it. Put it out of view. If the person was removed from the facility due to a medical reason or legal reason and they return. They will scour the location for possibly hours looking for what was lost. They will see the note. If it is clothing or any kind of decent supplies and the person doesn’t come back the homeless will find it and take it anyway. Generally “ethical” homeless leave things where they lay for long periods of time. We might take something if we see it in the same spot every day for a few days. There are those also who will take anything not tied down. Including with you standing 2 feet from it looking the other way while their friend distracts you.

    Here is some food for thought. If the campsite looks like a bomb hit it. Chances are the person is strung out and may not even remember where they were. So what you do is at your discretion. Usually if it looks like that I wouldn’t really go to deep digging around and touching and organizing stuff. If there is some kind of rhyme and reason and order and stuff someone would logically not abandon in a survival situation do the chalk thing. If you are one of those that just hates the homeless. Urinate on everything, throw it in the bushes and write with chalk where it is.

    Here is why things end up in odd places . . . Where we can and cannot put things is anybody’s guess. It is learned through trial and error. When I first hit the street I was getting close to a point where I might be able to get off / find a job etc as I had a stable place to store everything and it was left alone for about a month. I would hear people come by on their phone look at my stuff . . . Though it was out of view and be calling it in.

    Eventually once everything was starting to come together the city came through and confiscated EVERYTHING. My food. My clothes. Everything. I am a photographer and had my entire life’s work on hard drives. They took it all. That was about 2 months ago and I still have not recovered.

    Now I spread stuff out and actually am starting to leave some things in plain view. Why??? Amazingly. The stuff in plain view was left alone and to this day is still there.

    I assume they take everything assuming they will drive us into a shelter that is already bursting at the seams and is a hub for organized crime, corruption and international organized crime. I stay away at all cost. There are too many people running around there who take their martini shaken and not stirred with dark sunglasses who think they are doing “something.” Generally you go in and basically just lose everything. Someone in the property room searches your stuff . . . Possibly looking for drugs . . . Maybe the DEA. I don’t know. It is my guess. That information leaks out until everyone in the facility looking to rob and divert that stuff to the black market even knows what zipper it lays behind. And it is so brazen they will walk up to you and smile and point to the pocket. Say it contains a watch. They will point to the pocket and smile and tap on their watch. Eventually at some point it will be gone. Usually the day it is taken they will walk up to you and tap on their watch and smile because they know you can’t do anything about it. That usually only happens when you are fresh off the boat and haven’t yet developed the live or die mentality and are not ready to take them to the ground and pound their daylights out.

    Also. If you do what I am saying with the chalk the person will appreciate you and may know you and you not even know it as they may spend their day out of view. Those who treat us like garbage and do it because they know they can get away with it . . . And they can and do. They can spit in our face. Call the police and have us jailed. They can do that and get away with it. Word does get out and people talk just like anyone else. Most of us are in pretty good shape comparatively. We walk miles and miles a day carrying weight. We also have some experience with hand to hand combat because fighting in some capacity is required. If you want to make enemies with people with those characteristics and who also stay out of view out of necessity and who know how to live in society invisibly . . . That is at your discretion.

    Those who are drug addicts. I just don’t see how they will ever get off the street. I am not. And I have no idea how I will. Take your entire house and condense it down to what you can carry. You can stay organized. But that is a whole different can of worms. You will lose stuff quite a bit. It may suddenly get cold and you have to dig your gloves out of the bottom of a bag. You may rest your glasses on a ledge and forget them. Or something falls out etc. or someone comes from the city with the aggressive “move now or else” routine. They usually are just drunk on power and enjoy watching someone frantically pack their bag and then run from them.

    Anyway. I await the thumbs down. 🙂

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