SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Washington – More than 10,000 needles are being removed from an abandoned 15-acre homeless camp in Everett for a three- to four-week volunteer-led cleanup.
Lush greenery adorns the curb of Meridian Ave S in Everett, but if you step behind the trees you will find a maze of man-made paths that lead to now-vacant homeless camps.
For years it has been estimated that anywhere between 30 and 50 campers call the 15 acres that stretch from Puget Park to 130th Street home.
Now the campers are gone, but the remains of the camps remain. The area is full of trash and needles.
Sharps peppers the ground and even hangs from the trees.
“Are you careful what you are doing, do you need a hand?” Asked Jim Phelps as he led a KIRO-7 team through the various camps.
Phelps is the vice president of the Hand Up Project, a nonprofit advocacy group for the homeless in Snohomish County and resource broker.
On Sunday, his team of 50 volunteers worked their way through the area, one path and one camp at a time, using garbage collection devices to search the garbage on the ground and carefully picking up and disposing of the needles.
In just over an hour, the group found hundreds of needles. But at the end of the day, they expect that number will be over 10,000.
“They are people and they are so far from help and feel hopeless that it is heartbreaking to see how people really live, they are so disconnected from society that all doors are closed and nothing can help, this is what it really looks and feels like out here, ”Phelps said.
The Needle Cleanup, known as the 10,000 Needle Initiative, marks the beginning of a minimum three-week cleanup project. The nonprofit’s efforts began two weeks earlier when they first came to the camps to do public relations.
“We usually come two weeks before the project with a group of volunteers, they are really advocates who want to stand by the people and provide resources to give the people in the camps the resources they need, be it detox, Treatment, accommodation … We are really trying to create a service void where we stand next to people and not just give them a business card, ”explains Phelps.
“Our goal is for the community to really see these people as human beings, and for the problem not to be solved from above,” Phelps continued. “In order for people to feel seen and recognized as human beings, one must walk shoulder to shoulder with them and walk next to them on this path of recovery.”
Anyone can volunteer, but for many it is personal as they have faced their own struggles with drug addiction, crime and homelessness.
“I was actually on the bad side, I was selling drugs,” said Jeffery Barquet.
Barquet said he changed his life after serving in prison in the early 2000s. Since his release, he has devoted his time to the Hand Up Project and helps with various clean-ups.
“I’ve torn families apart and helped create this, and I want to give something back and clean up,” said Barquet. “I feel like I’m getting it right with God, with everyone I’ve harmed in life.”
After a day of needling, the group will move on to a general cleanup that will remove trash, structures, and other debris.
The cleanup is expected to take three weeks.
The Hand Up Project currently needs volunteers. Click here to learn more.
© 2021 Cox Media Group