23 Aug 2014
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The Clean Team 'Celebrates' a Year of Picking up Hypodermic Needles and Trash

For a year these volunteers have spent Saturdays cleaning up the most disgusting and dangerous garbage left by junkies.

Elly Chapman got motivated to clean up Santa Cruz the hard way - her husband stepped on a discarded hypodermic needle and had to undergo seven months of painful treatments to make sure he didn't contract a fatal disease.

"I had to do something," she said. "Kids are finding needles every day. They take it for granted. It's sad that we can't let our kids play barefoot in a sandbox."

Chapman, along with 18 others, gathered at the county health building at Emeline Street Saturday at 9 am. and spent the next two hours following a path that was something out of a horror movie along Highway 1. There were piles of human feces, hypodermic needles, half-eaten cans of beans, more needles, beer bottles, discarded clothes...even a $1 bill.

They call themselves the Clean Team and today their members included Mayor Lynn Robinson and Councilman Pamela Comstock, both of whom are regulars. Others who spent the morning trekking through parts of Santa Cruz that few with homes and jobs will ever see included five members of the local Church of the Latter Day Saints, an off-duty California Highway Patrolman and a bunch of people who said they wanted to bring back the clean, safe Santa Cruz they knew years back.

They have picked up tons of trash and thousands of needles the past year. They keep a log of what they find. One entry last December reads:

"In addition to 550 pounds of garbage, the team found a sex offender's ankle monitor with associated paperwork, 7 needles, 5 gallons of urine, a fender, mailbox, fireplace grate and artwork."

And it isn't just Santa Cruz. A 5-year-old stepped on a hypodermic needle at Anna Jean Cummings Park -- nicknamed "Blue Balls" park -- in Soquel recently and has to undergo painful treatments.

Saturday kept up the sad tradition, they said, with a truckload of trash, condoms, needles, beer bottles and disgusting piles of feces.

"My perfect little bubble of Santa Cruz was popped," said Meriah Campbell, who joined the team after hearing about Chapman's husband. "I was born and raised here and I feel like we just have to do something about it."

Some of it seemed plain out of control. There's a methadone clinic at the Emeline site, but they said, there are also people in a camper who sell the junkies heroin right outside it. They've seen it the transactions.

Parents brought kids and made it a family affair. They policed an area along Highway 1, which they said was greatly improved because CalTrans had recently cut down trees and brush. But for the first timer, it was still disgusting and blighted. 

CHP officer Bryce Danenhauer came to the clean up because his church asked him to. It was sort of a busman's holiday.

 "I spend my days cleaning up these people, putting them in jail, and they are back out the next day," he said. "You'd like to feel like you are accomplishing something, but you see the same people over and over again. I'd like to see Santa Cruz the way it was when I was growing up. I used to skateboard at Beach Flats. You can't even go there now, with all the gangs."

Saturday began with a moment of silence for the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings and some said they honored the parents by getting out and doing something to help the community.

One man said he likes to walk two hours a day, and this was a way to help make things better during his walk.

Another thought of it playfully, in a macabre way, saying "It's a scavenger hunt--the worst scavenger hunt ever -- other there."

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