Housed and unhoused Lawrence community members planning camp cleanups

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At an unsanctioned camp near the railroad tracks at Sandra J. Shaw Community Health Park, Sandy Burkett lives in a blue tent with her puppy, Girlfriend. 

Known as a camp mom, Burkett tries to keep the land tidy and peaceful, but keeping the camp clean has its challenges. 

Burkett used to haul trash to Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center about a half-mile away, but the walk strains her injured back, and it doesn’t take long for things to accumulate. 

That’s why Burkett is eager to participate in an upcoming cleanup that is one of several collaborations between housed and unhoused community members and neighborhood organizations throughout town.

“The cleanup will help me, yes. Things have gotten out of hand,” Burkett said. “There just aren’t any dumpsters down here and I got tired of hauling it; my back can’t take it much anymore.”

With the first one coming up Saturday, May 20, the community cleanups are scheduled throughout the next month. They’re designed to clean the parks occupied by people living outside without dismantling any camps or displacing people. Some of the places volunteers and camp residents will clean include Amtrak Depot, Sandra J. Shaw Community Health Park and Burroughs Creek.

Kevin Elliott-Snow, an advocate for the homeless, has organized the cleanups in an effort to strengthen bonds between housed and unhoused community members while restoring shared resources.

“No unhoused people will be disrupted, relocated or have their camps encroached by outsiders,” Elliott-Snow said. “They have requested the dignity and respect to claim responsibility for cleaning their own spaces, and will join the communities in cleaning up surrounding areas together.”

Chansi Long/Lawrence Times In this file photo from December 2022, Kevin Elliott-Snow, of Lawrence, loads bags in preparation for New Year’s Eve. He planned to distribute up to 200 goodie-like gift bags for anyone experiencing homelessness.

The city is donating gloves and industrial trash bags and providing dumpsters to fill and water to drink on the day of the event.

Elliott-Snow has already taken trash bags to the camps, and campers have commenced filling them. He believes extending resources will enable many people to take charge of cleaning their own areas. 

“When there’s not access to trash cans, there’s not access to garbage bags, there’s not access to gloves and to the basic supplies you need, and when you have to spend your time finding shelter and food, it’s difficult,” Elliott-Snow said. 

And though unhoused people produce some of the trash at the parks, other community members are also complicit, Elliott-Snow said. 

“Trash comes from game day, it comes from Johnny’s customers, it comes from cars driving down the highway. It’s blown out of neighbors’ yards,” he said. “And I don’t blame anybody, as much as I blame everybody, and I think it’s unfair to point the finger at one source when there are multiple sources.”

Burkett said she feels frustrated when other people discard debris and trash near the campsite where she has stayed for nearly seven years. She hopes the cleanup will help restore the beauty of the nearby land. 

“I want it to stay clean afterwards,” Burkett said. “I like it to be nice.”

Chansi Long/Lawrence Times Sandy Burkett and Girlfriend

Elliott-Snow wants to encourage and invite the community to volunteer at any or all of the cleanups. The neighborhood associations at each location are providing community meals for everyone to enjoy. 

To participate or learn more, contact Kevin Elliott-Snow at 785-505-0039.

Cleanups are set for the following times and dates, with more to come:

  • 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 20 in East Lawrence, along the river at Amtrak Depot (413 E. Seventh St.)
  • Noon to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, May 21 in the Pinkney neighborhood at Sandra J. Shaw Community Health Park (110 Maine St.)
  • 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 3 in the Brook Creek neighborhood at Burroughs Creek; meet at the park parking lot at 900 E. 15th St. 
  • 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, June 17 in North Lawrence at the boat ramp; meet at Eighth and Oak streets
  • TBA: North Lawrence levy north of Johnny’s Tavern
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.

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