Those who pick up trash for the Centralia Clean Team volunteer their time and labor.
Despite the rise in people experiencing homelessness and the rubbish often left behind, the Centralia Clean Team’s efforts have helped the streets slowly get cleaner, Clean Team volunteer Cindy Browne said.
“There have been articles written that the less people see litter, the less they litter,” Browne said. “And we have really found it to be true … What we’ve cleaned up stays clean, pretty much.”
Originally, Browne started picking up trash when she moved from Oregon because she saw a lot of litter on the streets and didn’t want her mother to think she had moved to a bad community. She began collecting trash while she walked her dog.
Browne would walk up North Gold Street, among other streets, and gather garbage into piles to make it easier to clean up.
“Then (Centralia Public Works Director) Kim Ashmore saw me and said, ‘hey you should join the clean team. Do you want some bags? Do you want a picker?’” Browne recalled.
While the Centralia Public Works Department doesn’t pay the members of the Clean Team, it does provide supplies and collect bags of litter the Clean Team gathers.
Once a Clean Team volunteer fills one of the city’s trash bags — which are bright orange — they simply leave it off to the side of the road and contact the Centralia Public Works Department to let them know the trash bag’s location for collection and how long it took to collect. Multiple bags can be left for pickup.
“It’s important to do this instead of just taking the bags home and throwing them in your own trash bins,” Browne said. “Kim has to keep track of how many bags there are to fill out a report for the county every month to keep getting grant money.”
Browne said it was nice to find the Clean Team because it is good to have a group of people to interact with during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Now, she’s out multiple days a week ensuring the streets stay clean, which is key to their success.
“We have noticed it’s so much easier keeping up than catching up,” Browne added.
After a flood a few years ago, she helped collect 38 bags of trash along with larger items such as toilets and sinks on Delaware Avenue.
“All the neighbors facing the trash there noticed us cleaning and they came out and talked to us. Nobody has ever done it again, and several of the neighbors mow that whole strip now, because they couldn’t before with all the trash,” Browne said.
A lot of the trash picked up was “luxury litter,” she said.
“Luxury litter is Starbucks cups or other things like that thrown out the car window,” Browne said. “And you see it in the neighborhoods where there are no homeless camps. The homeless people can’t get those with their EBT cards or their very limited funds.”
Whether it be laziness or just not noticing trash falling out of their cars, Browne said some people don’t ever stop littering, despite the Clean Team’s efforts. Her own Clean Team partner never really noticed litter until he got involved to start picking it up.
Some experiencing homelessness do leave litter, though. During the winter, most of what the Clean Team collects is composed of cardboard, clothes and blankets that get wet.
Once wet, those out on the streets have no way to dry their clothes and blankets off. While the Salvation Army center does have a washer and dryer those experiencing homelessness can use, Browne said there are only a certain number of tokens given out each day.
And even then, those lucky enough to get tokens often face long waits to use the machines.
So when someone living on the streets gets their clothes and blankets wet during the rainy months, they often have no choice but to ditch the dead weight before it becomes moldy.
Many of those she encounters experiencing homelessness are often dealing with mental health issues and have nobody to help them out, which Browne and other Clean Team volunteers end up doing sometimes.
“Some of them we really try to help, like the guy who just died at the King Oscar,” Browne said. “Steve and I drove him to get his ID. They always lose their ID and their phone. So I’ve taken more than several to (Department of Health and Social Services), to Social Security. You know, their mail got canceled and their benefits aren’t coming through and they just need someone to help them fill out forms. Some of them really have just been disabled since childhood.”
There are some drug addicts among them as well, Browne said. For those she finds camping, Browne talks to them to ask them to clean up after themselves, and while most do promise, trash is still left.
“They don’t do it to be mean. They just don’t see it,” she added.
Some are occasionally hostile toward her, and recently Browne has noticed some are using the tracks near the neighborhood where she lives as a trail to walk through the city and get places.
The Centralia Police Department has been helpful as well in trespassing some who are occupying public spaces.
“The police and the community service officers, they go talk to them and they’re really nice,” Browne said.
Abandoned cars have been becoming an issue as well, Browne added, on top of the many abandoned RVs the police department is having to deal with.
While the cleanup efforts have been getting easier, Browne said the Clean Team is always looking for new volunteers. The Clean Team used to meet for group pickups, but now most members patrol in pairs or just clean up their own time when they can.
Though they are having some success keeping areas clean consistently, Browne added there are some areas in town they are not able to get to and are always looking for more volunteers to help them out.
To find out how to get involved with the Centralia Clean Team, visit the team’s Facebook page at https://tinyurl.com/y8p4k2xe.
Anyone interested can get free trash bags courtesy of the Centralia Public Works Department, located at 1100 N. Tower Ave. in Centralia and open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information, call the Public Works Department at 360-330-7512.