The City of Seattle has seen a recent increase in complaints about trash and illegal dumping on public property. This increase is attributable not only to encampment residents who have limited means to remove garbage, but also people who are housed, who may find it acceptable to illegally dump unwanted items near encampments or public rights-of-way in general. The City is concentrating on addressing trash and associated public health hazards to provide a cleaner, safer environment for both people living unsheltered and the community at-large.
In addition to providing intensive individualized outreach to people living unsheltered, with the goal of helping them find a stable home, the City is ramping up our efforts to keep our streets, parks and other open spaces clean through the activation of the City’s Emergency Operations Center to accelerate and coordinate our response to the homelessness crisis in Seattle.
For years, individual departments have responded to this issue as it impacts property under their authority, occasionally coordinating efforts. Working together through the EOC, Seattle Public Utilities, Seattle Parks and Recreation, Seattle Department of Transportation, and Finance and Administrative Services, and occasionally WSDOT, are synchronizing the response to quickly address problem areas, both at encampments and on public property where people dump trash. These efforts are integrated with the work of the Navigation Team, specially trained Seattle Police officers and outreach workers who go into unauthorized encampments and work with individuals to get them services and shelter alternatives.
These efforts are in addition to SPU’s long-standing Illegal Dumping program, and several pilot programs launched in 2016 to target specific issues that have increased due to both the homelessness crisis and the growing heroin epidemic. The four programs are described below.
Illegal Dumping Program
For more than 30 years, the SPU’s Illegal Dumping program has responded to reports of junk, garbage or debris left on public property, including roadsides, open streets and paved alleys. Most commonly reported items include TVs and computers; furniture; paints, solvents and other potentially hazardous liquids; tires; garbage; yard waste; and construction debris.
SPU responds within 10 days to reports that come in through the Illegal Dumping hotline and the Find it, Fix it mobile app. In 2016, SPU increased resources to the program to decrease response times through a faster intake process, triage protocol for reports and use of contractors for pick-up. In 2016, SPU’s Illegal Dumping program:
- Received 13,468 complaints about illegal dumping in the city.
- Removed and disposed of 1,205,870 pounds of illegally dumped material (includes litter).
- Cleaned approximately 5,022 illegal dumping locations.
- Removed and recycled 65,687 pounds of illegally dumped material.
Encampment Trash Pilot Program
Provides both scheduled and on-call trash pick-up services to unsanctioned homeless encampments identified in partnership with Finance and Administrative Services (FAS) and Human Services Department (HSD). The sites are chosen based on: safe access for vendors; safe conditions for encampment residents; ability for outreach staff to engage encampment residents; trash clearly identified as garbage and separated from any personal possessions; trash for collection located away from the encampment and on a public right-of-way; site not immediately scheduled for FAS to remove the encampment. For both scheduled and on-call pick-ups, a contracted outreach provider (REACH) works directly with the site occupants on the logistics of the pick-up site.
Currently, four unsanctioned homeless encampments are being serviced weekly, and numerous sites are serviced as needed through on-call trash pick-up service. Bulky items (e.g., couches, etc.) will be picked up as part of these services. Because the sites are serviced by haulers on commercial collection routes and mixed in with other pick-ups, we cannot identify the volume collected at these specific sites.
These services are separate from collection of trash following a scheduled encampment cleanup.
Sharps Collection Pilot
The City of Seattle sharps collection pilot program provides safe disposal of “sharps” (syringes, needles and lancets) with the following services:
- Removal of sharps from public property within 24 hours of a report (began August 2016).
- Reports come in through the Find it, Fix it mobile app and the Illegal Dumping hotline.
- Needle response is seven days per week.
- Installed secure sharps disposal boxes in six locations throughout the city (began December 2016); plus six small boxes installed in some Parks comfort stations in February 2017.
- Two large boxes on the public right-of-way and four at Parks locations.
- Currently boxes are serviced at least weekly.
- As the pilot grows, frequency of pick-up and installation of more boxes may happen.
As of March, 21, 2017, SPU collected 5,675 syringes from drop boxes and on public property in response to complaints since the pilot began.
Litter Abatement Pilot
Provides enhanced services to address litter and its impacts on a community in partnership with community groups and Business Improvement Associations. Beginning in July 2016, additional solid waste services were provided in three neighborhoods – ID/Chinatown, Little Saigon and Ballard – through the end of January 2017, at which time the services were transitioned over to the community partners. A second phase for the pilot is being planned for 2017, with services being continued in Little Saigon and expanded into one or two additional neighborhoods. Levels of service are determined by the amount of litter in the neighborhoods and input from community partners.
The enhanced services include:
- Increased area and frequency of litter clean-up, including sweeping of streets and sidewalks, removing accumulations of litter from the tops of litter cans, and sharps collection.
- Increased Illegal dumping pick-up from the neighborhood core and sidewalk area.
- Increased pressure washing of the sidewalks.
- Clean-up of targeted alleys, including pressure washing and increased grease tank servicing.
- Outreach and education to retail and food service businesses, and multifamily on food waste, recycling, composting and garbage services.
In 2016, the pilot resulted in: 772 bags of trash removed, 105 bulky items removed, 610 sharps collected, 271 overflowing trash cans cleaned up, and 106 pressure washings conducted.