24 August 2007

OregonSAGA CITO at Wallace Marine Park

(Warning: This post contains conservative political views, liberals are advised to use discretion when reading as entries may cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, and a sudden wondering "Hey, why ARE we paying all these taxes?!")

One of the cardinal tenets of geocaching is the practice known as CITO. It stands for “Cache in, Trash out.” The idea is that, as you go about geocaching in an area, try to remove any litter you find, to leave the place better than you found it. Just a little effort by a lot of people can make a big difference.

Periodically, individual geocachers or geocaching organizations hold “CITO” events: concentrated, organized efforts targeted to specific areas at a given time. This concentrated effort requires planning and participation, but can yield a remarkable result in a very short period of time. Usually, the area is a public park, greenway, cemetery, etc., especially an area that is friendly toward our sport. It is a small way of giving back to the communities that provide us a place to pursue our geeky little hobby.

The OregonSAGA group recently held a CITO event at one of the largest parks in the Salem area, Wallace Marine Park. Wallace Marine reminds me a lot of Kennedy Park back in Memphis, which my GOWT friends will recognize. Although both parks are plagued with their share of undesirable activities, this was my first exposure to this type; namely, homelessness and drug abuse.

Kennedy Park is famous for “cruising” by men looking for other men. Wallace Marine is sort of the “catch-all” place for homelessness in the Salem area. (I’ll spare you my conservative Republican philosophy, for the most part, for now, but stay tuned to the blog!). Despite healthy taxation and government assistance programs, and a very healthy network of faith-based shelter activity, a significant number of homeless people still congregate in Salem, in a variety of areas. It’s not just Wallace Marine Park, but the size of the park and the amount of wooded trails, along with the proximity of the Willamette River, make the park an ideal choice for the homeless to set up camp. It is a problem that, for the most part, Memphis just doesn’t have. Oh, there are homeless people in Memphis, perhaps in similar numbers and worse shape than these folks, but bear in mind, Memphis is a city of over 600,000 people, and an MSA of well over 1 million, while Salem stands relatively alone and has about 140,000 people. Having a similar number of homeless as Memphis means a significantly higher percentage of the population is homeless. Part of the problem is imbedded in the institutional history of the city, which I don’t have time to cover here, but makes an interesting study.

I understand that I’m painting with a very broad brush here, but one of the common threads that run through the typical WMP homeless person is a rejection of the available resources that provide other options. Area shelters have rules, and one of the main rules is “no drugs, no booze.” Some just don’t like rules period, but most choose to live here rather than avail themselves of conventional shelter because they have habits that are not welcome in the shelters. One of the by-products of these habits is trash, namely bottles, cans, and more seriously, needles.

So you can imagine my disappointment at having to brief my 12 and 4 year old kids on what a discarded needle looks like, not to pick up ANYTHING without gloves, and try all day to get my 4 year old, who really likes to help, not to pick up pretty much everything he sees. Especially dangerous is discarded clothing, which can have needles hidden in it.

All negativity aside, we had a large group of Cub Scouts and about a dozen geocachers, complete with a City of Salem provided police officer as chaperone. We spent a couple of hours picking up over 500 pounds of trash including two bicycles and a shopping cart! I personally didn’t see any needles, so for that we were grateful! After a brief lunch of chicken, fixings donated by Roth’s Grocery Stores, and some great pizza donated by Garlic Jim’s, three of us headed out into the woods into an area that we were not allowed to clean, strictly for the purposes of documenting, with photographs and GPS coordinates, the abandoned camps that litter (literally) the northern half of the woods at the park. I was amazed. There were areas where trash was just heaped upon trash! Remnants of large camps were found! It was obvious that a large number of people had camped there for some time. There were fire pits, alcoves carved into the hillside into makeshift shelves. One site was so bad and so large that the only remedy I could suggest is to bulldoze it flat, bring in a load of clean fill, and make a tiny landfill out of it! Bizarrely, right in the middle of this site stood an empty trash can; one of the rolling ones provided by the city’s contracted trash collection service.
It still had the serial number on the front, obviously taken from some house or business.

Hopefully, by providing documentation of what is going on out here, the residents will wake up and take steps to reclaim this wonderful park. No one else can do it. Government is not the end-all be-all answer to the problem. Simply ignoring it as long as it doesn’t affect “my neighborhood” isn’t the answer. Providing a “safe” isolated are for homeless people to break the law isn’t the answer.

I’m strongly conservative, fiscally and socially, but I’m not heartless. I never liked the term “compassionate conservative.” I prefer “common sense conservative.” You can’t simply tell the homeless “you can’t be here.” You have to provide alternatives, governmental and more importantly faith-based. American churches has somewhat abandoned the care of the downtrodden to government, one of the few flaws I see in our American society. Simply doing nothing because “there are government programs for that” is unacceptable. Conversely, governments throwing money at these people isn’t solving anything either! The government doesn’t HAVE any money! The only money the government has is MINE, and YOURS, and every other taxpayer out there! It’s time to get rid of politicians who think they are spending “the government’s” money!

But for the most part, the area I’m talking about is not inhabited by people who have fallen on hard times and need a helping hand to get back on their feet. It’s not people who really WANT to have better circumstances, and are willing to put in the effort if given the chance. These are people who LIKE their addictions. They CHOOSE to live here rather than obey the rules of civilized society.

Does someone’s 4 year old have to get AIDS from a discarded needle in the woods before we get permission to clean it up? It won’t be mine! Sadly, we’ll avoid those trails with the kids unless and until common sense prevails and the community stands up for itself and takes back the territory it has ceded by inertia.

No one else can.

Article in the Salem Statesman Journal:


Jim G said...

CITO - making the world a better place, one trash bag at a time.

Thanks, Steve, for updating us on one of the best actions that a geocaching organization can perform, both as a way of thanking the local park & recreation services and as a way of demonstrating that something as goofy as hunting for tupperware in the woods can have good side effects.

Beaverbeliever said...

I wasn't able to make it. But I love what OregonSAGA is doing as far as CITO's go.


dOoTy said...

I agree that maybe they should be cleaner, but you dont know these people personally. your a writer i understand maybe your just trying to get your story thats just it i dont know because i dont know you. my name is angelica i had something unfortunate happen to me when i was 17 and i had nowhere to go, shelters were full and when they werent they told me i needed "parent-approval" to mke sure i wasnt a run away. didnt make much sense to me, but you see i tried everything to stay out of the streets but i was forced to. a 17 year old, stuck outside, not everyone will get the shelter they need. I stayed at Wallace Marine after hearing that people camp out there. I met over 50 people living there, and heard all of their stories and not one of them liked how they were living. Some drank it away some used meth to feel better about their life. Im not saying its right at all to use, and im not giving them excuses. Even i tried to help them, but my point is that they do not have anywhere to go, theyre forced to live in that park and to be in that is truly depressing believe me. Take a day to be homeless, broke, starving, and people stereotyping you as a pathetic user. you will get depressed and lose faith, and when you lose that its hard to get it back, those men would tke a day to sit around a campfire and have a bible study because its all they had. they are not bad people. Live outside for 20 years tell me how clean you can maintain it.

Spencersb said...

Thanks for your perspective, Dooty. I know not everyone out there is there by choice, and I've talked to some out there who really do try to keep their "home" clean. As my friend "salmondan" has pointed out, some of these people are not "homeless," they're just "houseless." I'm sorry for the experience you had, hope life has treated you better since. Actually, I've spent a brief period "homeless" myself, though thanks to the kindness of some good friends, I spent my "homeless" time on a relatively luxurious couch. God's been good to me, even in the midst of trials. As His church, we really should be doing a better job of showing His compassion and love to "the least of these," instead of assuming the government will provide for them.