Dozens of volunteers cleaned up trash left in abandoned transient camps in south Redding Saturday, where about 65 men and women hauled away bedding, carpeting, clothes, household furnishings and all kinds of refuse from trails following Olney Creek near south Highway 273 and Cedars Road.
To beat the heat, crews arrived at 7 a.m., and in a little more than two hours the job was done. Cleanup organizers estimated that the total haul tipped the scales at more than 3 tons.
As the last of the piles were loaded into a large trailer, volunteer Steven O'Neil of Redding said he was pleased at the turn-out, and how much was accomplished.
"We already filled up a couple of trailers ... and already made a trip to the dump," O'Neil said.
He said crews found only one homeless resident on site; a man lying on the ground. O'Neil said that at first, the man didn't appear to be breathing.
"We thought for sure he was dead," O'Neil said. "But then his eyes just opened. He was just sleeping."
As did many that morning, O'Neil wore a bright yellow short-sleeved shirt emblazoned with Shasta Support Service Volunteer.
"You get a T-shirt if you do two cleanups," Shasta Support Service volunteer Cynthia DiGioia explained as she worked at a sign-in table, where volunteers were asked to record both their arrival and departure times, which DiGioia said was to ensure that all the volunteers left the site after the cleanup.
Participants were also asked to sign a waiver of liability in the event of any injuries suffered during the cleanup. After that, the volunteers were ready to work. DiGioia handed out trash bags and gloves before pointing them to a network of trails identified with directional arrows sprayed on the ground with biodegradable paint.
At one site, a worker yelled out that he'd found a syringe. "I found a needle!" he shouted, which was followed by another another yellow-shirted person who called out, "Sharps container!"
A third volunteer stepped forward with a plastic bottle, rattling with syringes found earlier in the day.
Dale Ball, Shasta Support Service co-founder, said this level of organization took a while to achieve.
"At first it was just me and my neighbor, Michael Roberts, going out and cleaning up," he said. "I've lived here all my life and I hated to see what was happening in Redding."
He said the public reached out to the men via social media and expressed interest in pitching in after Roberts and Ball's efforts were featured on a local television news story about their cleanup in the Garden Tract neighborhood. After that, it was a matter of coming up with a name and creating a Facebook account to make take the group to the next level of public support and participation.
Asked about whether Shasta Support Service has an actual membership listing, Ball said that the group is fairly unstructured.
"We're just a group of volunteers," he said. "Our group has never been about having meetings. Our group always been about going out and getting stuff done."
'It got too dangerous'
Working alongside the volunteers was Redding resident Frank Muegge, who owns the property that was being cleaned that day. He said he knew he had to take action after he was contacted by the city.
"Code enforcement called me and said I had people here," he said, referring his property's illegal encampments. "They recommended I call Dale."
Muegge recalled a better time on the property, more than 15 years ago. Then, he lived on the 10-acre parcel in one of the pair of two-bedroom homes that stood among the trees. He lived in one house, and rented out the other. But over time, he felt less and less comfortable on his own property as he encountered more and more homeless camping around the creek.
"I used to drive them out myself," he said of the illegal campers. "It got too dangerous ... because of the transients. A lot of them had prison tattoos on them. There were a few who were pretty aggressive. That's when I knew it was time to leave."
Muegge said that with his houses vacant, transients moved in. They eventually set fires that burned the houses to the ground. When transients set up housekeeping among the burned-out ruins, Muegge had the property cleared.
"I've been trying to sell it since 2013," Muegge said.
Redding City Councilman Gary Cadd was among Saturday's cleanup workers.
"This is the first time I came out to help these guys, but it won't be the last," he said. "I can't believe the number of people here. This is fantastic."
Cadd said that that Redding has "a big homeless problem," and quoted his words on the subject two years ago.
"I said that to do nothing now is simply not an option," Cadd said. "That still stands."
Ball, one of the co-founders of Shasta Support Service, agreed. He said he and other volunteers do what they can, but they try to remain realistic.
"We can't fix everything," he said. "But we can fix one little piece of property at a time."
Photos by Richard DuPertuis.
Those interested in helping with Shasta Support Service cleanups, or learning more about the organization, can visit the group's Facebook page.
The next big cleanup is scheduled for Sat., Aug. 27 in Cottonwood. Volunteers should meet at Steve's A-Z appliance store at 7 a.m.