A Caltrans District 10 road work supervisor in Jamestown sent an excavator driver to remove tons of trash Thursday collected by homeless campers on the south side of Stockton Road, across the street from the encampment known as Camp Hope.
James Bayliss, 58, a bearded man dressed in white, was tending a small fire with a pot on it next to a temporary wood frame structure with a green tarp over it, about 50 yards from where the Caltrans excavator driver was busy clearing trash and debris.
“Between this spot and back that way,” he said, pointing toward Woods Creek, “I got about 10 years in this spot. My brother and I been out here trying to clean it up. We took about 160 bags out of here in June or July.”
Bayliss indicated the 160 bags of garbage comprised most of the refuse the Caltrans excavator driver was busy clearing.
“We’re trying to keep it so it looks OK,” he said of the area where he and others are encamped. “Not everybody homeless has to be a pig. It doesn’t have to look offensive here. The other day some Sonora PD came down and we talked about all the bags of trash we collected.”
Bayliss pointed east toward Woods Creek and upstream toward Mother Lode Fairgrounds.
“If we clean that way we need another dumpster,” he said. “We could use a 10-yard dumpster to finish it.”
The encampment closest to where the Caltrans excavator driver cleared trash and brush is close to or within the state right-of-way.
Two dump truck loads, about 10 cubic yards each, of bagged trash and other debris were removed by the Caltrans excavator on Thursday, said Warren Alford, spokesman for the agency’s District 10 office. The work began Thursday morning and ended that afternoon, Alford said. An estimate for how much the work cost was not available.
“We do litter removal on an ongoing basis, to keep roads clear, and if it’s in the state right-of-way we try to take care of it,” Alford said.
Asked if Caltrans has a desired outcome for the homeless encampments on both sides of Stockton Road, Alford said, “Homelessness is obviously a significant problem in California. Right now we’re following communicable disease control guidelines, so unless there’s a risk to state infrastructure, we’re essentially not wanting to move people right now, unless they have somewhere to go to.”
Alford said when Caltrans tries to work with homeless people and homeless support groups, the state transportation department prioritizes working with local social services to try to reach out to individuals and help them find a place.
“But we don’t want to move somebody if they don’t have somewhere to go,” he added.
The main thing Caltrans wants to emphasize when dealing with homelessness and encampments near or within state rights-of-way is to engage with county and local community services to help do outreach with individuals who need services, Alford said.
Asked what happens next at the location where homeless encampments are on both sides of Stockton Road, Alford said, “We’re trying to mitigate things by doing trash removal where we can. We have a homeless task force and we’re following up with community partners in Sonora and Tuolumne County, and other locations.”
In more urban areas of District 10, including places like Stockton and Modesto, there are larger homeless encampments near or within state rights-of-way. The Caltrans homeless task force is focusing on those larger issues, and they are trying to do what they can in more rural areas like Sonora and Tuolumne County.
“We want to keep the right-of-way clean and safe,” Alford said, “so litter removal was a priority for us at that location. One thing we’re finding, there’s a lot of illegal dumping occuring whether there are encampments or not. So, we’re trying to work with our partners at CHP to enforce that. People can help us. Cover your loads when you go to the dump. If you witness illegal dumping, call law enforcement. We just need everybody to try to pitch in to keep the area clean because that’s what we expect.”
Asked about Bayliss and his statement that he and other campers could use a 10-yard dumpster to clean up more trash in the area, Alford said, “If people are trying to be helpful that’s great news. We do have adopt-a-highway programs where people bag trash and we’ll pick it up, and we do that same thing at encampments. We aren’t in the social services business, but we are responsible for keeping the right-of-way clear, so litter removal is part of what we can do to help the community.”
Alford emphasized again that illegal dumping of trash and refuse occurs on state rights-of-way next to state highways regardless of homeless encampments.
“We need everybody to do their part,” he said, “to help keep California clean.”