An innovative cleanup initiative in Hillsboro is not only transforming the city's public spaces but also changing the lives of its residents, including Sean, a formerly unsheltered person who has since found greater stability through supportive employment.
With special funding from Metro, the City of Hillsboro was able to expand clean-up work begun with local American Rescue Plan Act funding, partnering with three local contractors to clean up historically underserved and environmentally sensitive areas, and providing life-changing opportunities to people experiencing houselessness.
Sean's story is a testament to the impact of this initiative. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sean had been houseless for several years even while working at a local golf course. When the pandemic struck, he lost his longtime job and began to live in a parking lot that Washington County provided for individuals without homes.
“While others were sitting around the parking lot at their tent during the day,” he said, “I would pack my things up and walk around the city and pick up trash for something to do.”
Recognizing Sean's dedication, the Hillsboro Downtown Partnership offered him an opportunity to join their cleanup team. With a new contract with the city, the team expanded, providing Sean and others with stable employment and a regular routine.
"I was eager to be employed and have something to keep me active," Sean shared, highlighting the positive impact of the supportive employment, which often connects workers with other opportunities, such as housing, transportation and counseling services. “I also feel closer with the community,” he added. “I am recognized when I am out working.”
Sean's experience is just one of the success stories emerging from Hillsboro's cleanup initiative. The program, which was funded by Metro from a one-time $10 million investment from the State of Oregon, aims to address the waste impacts resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Metro, in partnership with local governments, nonprofits, and community organizations, provides funds to tackle the problems of public dumping, litter, graffiti, and abandoned vehicles.
Metro Councilor Juan Carlos González applauded the initiative, stating, "The most exciting thing we are hearing from our partners is how this investment is benefitting both local communities by restoring neglected areas and empowering people at the frontlines of this work, creating a pathway to long-term employment and stability."
Mandy Gawf, the community services coordinator for the City of Hillsboro, explained the program's approach. She said teams are assigned specific areas based on data from community complaints, call-ins, and previous debris sightings. This proactive work allows the teams to address debris hotspots promptly, ensuring that they do not escalate into larger issues.
"We are gathering everything from general litter to sharps to displaced shopping carts, as well as illegal dumps like household or construction materials," Gawf stated.
The cleanup efforts in Hillsboro have yielded impressive results. Through March 2023, over 30,000 pounds of debris, including 102 medical sharps and 458 shopping carts, have been collected from various areas of the city.
The areas include western Hillsboro, environmentally sensitive spaces like Dairy Creek Park and Noble Woods Park, and busy roads such as Tualatin Valley Highway, 10th Avenue and Oak and Baseline Streets.
The program’s three contractors, Hillsboro Downtown Partnership, Open Door HousingWorks, and City of Roses Disposal and Recycling, together have also recorded more than 1,000 hours of supportive employment.
The success of the cleanup initiative, however, goes beyond the visible results. It has empowered individuals like Sean to regain stability and build stronger connections with the community. Through his employment, for example, Sean obtained a Real ID and a bank account.
Moreover, the initiative has prompted positive behavioral changes within the community. Sean shared that his work has even influenced others to refrain from littering after seeing his cleanup team in action.
The City of Hillsboro plans to continue working with contractors even after the temporary Metro funding. Gawf said that a simplified proposal process for contractors interested in partnering with the city on this project helped lower barriers that can make it difficult for small businesses or nonprofits to obtain government contracts. The relationships the city has formed with its contractors have been strengthened through further collaboration and resource sharing.
The city also plans to invest a portion of the funding for additional public trash cans in hotspot areas, another proactive approach to prevent littering and maintain cleanliness now and in the future.