‘Pay City’s homeless to clean up floodplain’

Langley program could be modeled on similar efforts in U.S. – resident

  • Dec. 28, 2015 7:00 a.m.

Miranda Gathercole

Times Reporter

She’s calling it “just an idea,” but Sandy Dunkley’s solution to garbage build-up from homeless camps in the Nicomekl floodplain could save the City of Langley thousands of dollars, and perhaps even some lives.

Pay homeless people to clean. It’s a suggestion Dunkley made during a Parks and Environment Advisory Committee meeting in November, and one that was well received by council at its Dec. 7 meeting.

“It’s a great initiative,” CAO Francis Cheung said to council. “We just need to find a way to do it.”

Although it is still in the idea phase, and there may be potential issues with the union representing City workers, Dunkley is confident a program to pay homeless people to pick up garbage would have positive effects.

Several cities in North America already do this, Dunkley said. She has personally worked as part of a similar program in Nashville, Tenn.

“Once you start working with (homeless) people — not for them, with them — and when they know you’re on their side, and they’re on your side, boy it makes a huge difference,” she said.

“If you can get (to where) they are willing to work for you and they are willing to go over and clean up and help because it’s giving them something to do …  it’s going to help them get their dignity back.”

Dunkley recalls running an outdoor booth in Nashville and spending every morning cleaning up garbage, feces and vomit from people sleeping on the streets at night.

“When you’re trying to clean that crap up, you’re looking at bottles of bleach and a shovel and all kinds of rolls of paper towel — and I know for a fact, because I did it,” she said.

“People here in our downtown Langley area have to clean up something like that, that’s the sort of thing they have to do.”

Instead of further shaming homeless people for the messes, “I made it my business to get to know them,” Dunkley said.

“You learn the ones you can work with, and the ones that you can’t.

“And a whole lot of those people would love to get off the streets, but in their eyes, there’s no opportunity.”

Even small acts of kindness, like handing out fresh baking at Christmas, made a huge difference, she said.

Dunkley remembers one night, while working at a Charlie Daniels concert, a homeless man told her how much he loved Daniels’ music, but could not afford a ticket.

“I said, ‘listen, you go in and sit right in the back so no one notices and you’ll get to see Charlie Daniels,’” Dunkley said.

Two weeks later, the man brought Dunkley a handful of change he had collected to try to pay her back — something that still touches her.

“It’s really amazing how helping people can make such a big difference.”

Apart from the monetary benefit to both the City and the homeless — the City spends $50,000 a year on garbage pick-up, with an estimated $2,000 in the floodplain alone —Dunkley also believes the initiative will help local businesses.

“If they could do this, it would save the City so much money, and not only that, it will keep the businesses here,” she said.

“If the businesses see that something is actually happening to help them where they don’t have to clean up every morning behind these people … it will be helping them and it will be helping everybody actually.”

Dunkley has since written a letter to the City outlining her initiative, and council has directed staff to “investigate innovative ways” to mitigate increased garbage in the floodplain.

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