At my afternoon bus stop one day, I watched a black man at least 60 years old, driving a power wheelchair down the sidewalk, and bending over from his chair to pick up litter. Everything he picked up — empty bottles, cigarette wrappers, popsicle sticks, beer and soda cans, burger wrappers — got tossed into the wire basket attached to the front of his wheelchair.

He didn't bother with little stuff, like cigarette butts and such. Just going for the bigger trash, though, his basket got full, and fast. This was in a rough part of downtown, where the people aren't all elegant and fancy, and "Don't be a litterbug" is a lesson forgotten long ago.

When the tray was full, the man drove his wheelchair to a garbage can, and piece by piece plopped the litter where it belonged, into the trash.

After making his deposit, he drove his wheelchair along the sidewalk again, picking up more trash. While I watched, that man made three trashy round trips, and when he had the area much, much tidier than it had been, he drove his wheelchair around a corner and disappeared from my view.

My bus came a few minutes later, and we turned at that same corner, and you guessed it, that same man was driving his wheelchair along that sidewalk, picking up litter and dropping it into a trash barrel.

He wore no uniform or safety vest, and was clearly not a city employee. He was a volunteer, just a guy tired of the neighborhood looking like crap, who did something about it, instead of merely sitting around and complaining.

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The mayor says encampments are a "quality of life issue," and sends crews to harass the homeless, emptying them from wherever they've gathered, and dumping their meager possessions into the trash.

These are called "sweeps," a word so Orwellian it's a surprise George himself didn't coin the term. Police "sweep" the homeless away like dust, take or destroy everything, and leave them even more isolated and desperate than they already were.

They had the safety of knowing their friends were looking out for them, a small community of their own, and then they have nothing. Less than nothing, actually. The day before, they'd had tents, perhaps a winter jacket, but all that stuff got dumpstered.

"Sweeps" are in the news often around here, and when they're not in the news, it doesn't mean a sweep didn't happen. It only means the mayor skipped the press release, or a news editor decided they'd reported that story a few days ago.

Where do homeless people go, when the encampment, the closest thing they had to a home, is taken from them?

You're not supposed to ask, but the answer, of course, is that they'll find another place here in the city to pitch their tents and rebuild their communities. And then the mayor will send another wrecking gang to rip down that encampment, too.

Money well spent, the mayor believes. I believe the mayor's a monster, but he's an ordinary monster. Your city has one just like him.

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Remember the man in a power-wheelchair, picking up litter along the sidewalk? Never in Seattle have I seen a city employee doing what that man was doing.

Sidewalks actually are a "quality of life issue," if that term means anything. Clearing trash off the sidewalk improves the quality of everyone's lives — the people living there, walking there, and the people driving past.

Sitting here and complaining, I'd suggest that the city let the encampments alone, and instead spend that money paying people to tidy up the sidewalks, like the man in a wheelchair. Hire him first, to run the program, and then hire hundreds of the homeless to do the work.


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