Volunteers start cleaning up abandoned homeless campsites along river

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Volunteers bag up trash Sunday, April 11, 2021, bag up trash left at a former homeless campsite in the woods north of Burcham Park, Second and Indiana streets. The volunteers, many with KU's Lamba Chi Alpha fraternity and the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, loaded the bags on a trailer pulled by an ATV so that it could be removed to a dumpster.

Even though he and other volunteers Sunday had put a big dent in the amount of trash left behind at an abandoned homeless campsite deep in the timber north of Burcham Park, Greg Kipp was still amazed at the sheer volume of garbage that remained.

“I’m shocked,’ he said. “I never thought it would be this bad. We helped with the cleanup last week of a campsite out at Clinton Lake. It was nothing compared to this.”

Kipp was one of 15 University of Kansas Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers who helped Sunday with a volunteer cleanup day at abandoned homeless campsites along the Kansas River. Joining the fraternity brothers were a large number of Douglas County Sheriff’s Office employees and residents of North Lawrence. Together, they bagged trash that carpeted the campsite and loaded the bags onto a trailer Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister was pulling with an small all-terrain vehicle. From there, the trash would be taken a quarter-mile south to a Burcham Park parking lot and offloaded into a dumpster, which was nearly half full two hours after the cleanup started at 10 a.m.

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Volunteers throw trash bags filled with garbage from a former homeless camp into a dumpster spotted Sunday, April 11, 2021, at Burcham Park. Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister provided the ATV that pulled the trailer from the dumpstie to the campsite a quarter mile to the north.

“We’ll have no trouble filling it,” said Alex Hormell, the cleanup day’s coordinator. “We have another dumpster spotted just north of the bridge at Johnny’s Tavern.”

Unlike the Lambda Chi Alpha volunteers, Hormell wasn’t surprised by the massive amount of trash left at the campsites. On April 3, he, Armbrister and another volunteer used an ATV to scout the timber from the Sandra J. Shaw Community Health Park, north of Second Street near Michigan Street, to Burcham Park and then along the Kansas River from Johnny’s Tavern north to the Interstate 70 bridge. They found the timber dotted with abandoned homeless campsites.

Armbrister’s involvement began after he learned about the cleanup of old homeless camps Hormell and a cadre of mostly North Lawrence residents undertook last month south of the Lawrence Levee Trail and east of the Massachusetts Street bridge. During that cleanup, Hormell discovered a cluster of four campsites carpeted with so much trash that they had to return a second day to remove all the garbage.

As he drove the ATV and trailer back from the dumpster to the campsite Sunday, Armbrister explained why he decided to get involved in the cleanup effort.

“It’s just a way to give back to the community,” he said. “It has to be cleaned up with either taxpayer dollars or volunteers. This saves taxpayers the cost of the cleanup.”

At the site, Sheriff’s Office employee Kim Haun demonstrated one reason the cleanup is needed when she tossed a handful of objects into a special bucket.

“Needles,” she said of the intravenous needles she found at campsite.

The volunteers expected to have the first campsite cleaned by noon, in time to enjoy a lunch Amber Brown would provide from the Commissary food truck. At that time, some of the volunteers would get rides home on a bus provided by The Nest apartment complex. The remaining volunteers planned to move on to the the next campsite. But Hormell said more weekend cleanup days would scheduled to clean up all the camps he and Armbrister discovered.

Even when all the abandoned campsites are cleaned, others will be discovered. At he drove the ATV to the cleanup site Sunday, Armbrister pointed to an active homeless site in the timber.

“We know they’re there,” he said. “We leave them alone, except to ask them if they need anything.”


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