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Garbage clean-up through the eyes of a child

by Laurie Nealin

Last weekend, Colleen, a founding member of our East Exchange R:ED advocacy group, picked up pop and liquor bottles around the Alexander Dock area as she and her granddaughter Emily patiently waited for the solar eclipse to be visible through the clouds. Colleen’s activity was not lost on six-year-old Emily as you can see from the portrait she drew of her nana. When Colleen shared the artwork with me, she commented wryly, “I seem to be having a' nice time.”

Colleen also spent many hours this past weekend collecting debris at abandoned encampment sites in south Juba Park near Cibo and McDermot dock, filling 16 extra-large garbage bags. She has taken on the fall clean-up of the riverbank forest (and interim summer clean-ups) for four years now.

Colleen assembled the furniture (mattresses, chair, carpet) and other heavy items (including lumber, sleds, a bathroom sink and a transformer) and alerted the Exchange BIZ maintenance team so they could haul this junk away. The BIZ kindly agreed to take care of this task in recent years. The company 'Speedy Cart' will collect and refurbish the shopping carts.

Colleen said the gratifying part -- besides knowing that debris won't be in the river in the spring -- was that three unsheltered men offered to help her at different times both days. They shared their stories with her while they worked. While they did not expect any payment for helping her, she chose to pay them for their labour.

Come spring, our expectation is that the City, province and its partners will have a rapid housing/housing first and encampment remediation plan in place that will make “living rough” in the riverbank forest a non-starter – just as The Forks has enacted for riverbank south of the train trestle. Hopefully, then, the park will be seen differently through the eyes of a child.


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