Needles and trash littering the streets of Santa Cruz is a common sight, but a group known as the “Downtown Streets Team” is still working hard to change that.
The team is made up of about 40 people who are each experiencing homelessness and they all work together to clean up messes other people leave behind.
Brooke Newman, employment specialist for Downtown Streets Team said, “They do come across needles and encampments and garbage, but there are also cigarette butts on the beach which isn’t simply form homeless people, it’s not only homeless people creating trash issues, it’s all of us.”
The DST filled trash bins in less than 20 minutes Friday morning. Trash cans were full of cigarette butts, but the biggest and most dangerous thing the group comes across are needles.
“Needles, a lot of syringes, there are a lot of drug addicts out there by the levee and we’re afraid to get poked by a needle and we do as best as we can, but we know we have to pick them up or someone else might get hurt,” said DST manager, Anthony Sanchez.
Each team member carries a safe sharps box and there are two sharps kiosks. One kiosk by the courthouse on Water Street and one by the health center on Emeline Avenue, but the team said they’re hoping more safe disposable containers are installed.
“Have a sharps disposal on every trash can and we need to have them locked very well with security alarms so if you if somebody picks up a needle on the street they’ll have a safe place to throw it away instead of the trash can,” said DST Nathaniel Kennedy.
The county said the two kiosks that are out are getting a lot of use and they do have plans to get more.
Santa Cruz County Health Officer, Dr. Arnold Leff said, “We just put one (sharp kiosk) up in the library downtown Santa Cruz and we’re looking to put some more up. It does require other jurisdictions to agree to it. But I think it’s going to be worthwhile and we are doing our best to try to make sure that those sharps are off the street.”
The sharps kiosks have been here for about three years. Last month in July they collected 260 pounds of needles from these kiosks.