Community

Steve Taylor: Let’s say ‘A dumpster runs through it’ in Oakdale

columns@modbee.comJuly 12, 2014 

My hatred for the dumpster is misplaced, and I know it. A large trash receptacle cannot be responsible for scattering bags of clothing, broken baby strollers and other junk I find every day along a quarter-mile section of the Stanislaus River in Oakdale. But I still loathe the thing.

Though its purpose is noble – holding items the Hope Chest, a nonprofit agency, cannot resell or refurbish – the metal monster has become a bait-station for the people who camp along the banks of the Stanislaus. Squatting in the back of a shopping center a few yards from the water, this dumpster is indirectly responsible for trashing my river, and that will not stand.

What follows is a tale of how an average schmoe stood between an avalanche of donated sweaters and an ecosystem only to learn just how tough finding a villain can be.

John Renner, director of Retail Operations at Hope Chest said, “We’ve put seven or eight locks on that dumpster over the years and (the homeless) cut them off. We even got the dumpster with the big bars over it once. They set it on fire.”

This explains how access to the Dumpster has been so open for so long. The Hope Chest is a thrift store with six sites around Stanislaus County. It relies on donations to help fund Community Hospice. I was demanding Hospice divert money from their important work to buy another lock – an admittedly simplistic approach doomed to defeat by people with serious issues, including substance addictions.

I walked across the shopping center’s parking lot to the river on June 16 looking for litterbugs. Instead, I found a dozen young people from the California Conservation Corps backed up by dump trucks and a giant front-loader, all under the eye of armed wardens from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. This was Caltrans’ semi-annual river cleanup day under and around “their” Highway 120 bridge.

The sheer amount of material pulled out of the river was shocking. Had to be 20 cubic yards of stuff. I just remember the dusty treadmill they wrestled out of the weeds. This is what happens when people who likely have mental health diagnoses have access to discarded “stuff” that they can drag down to my river.

Maybe the property manager of the shopping center where the bin sits could somehow be negligent in securing the location.

Then I found owner Rich Murdoch, who showed up himself with a work crew that same cleanup day. And he admitted, “Every homeless camp we cleaned up had clothing and bedding items that I’m sure were removed from that dumpster.”

Murdoch said he was determined to solve the problem with ideas ranging from building a trash enclosure to working with the local garbage company to get a dumpster that has “a better means of locking.”

If he’s not the problem, and Hospice isn’t the problem, then who is?

The homeless campers, of course, but they don’t reply to my calls or emails. When I approach, they don’t seem to share my concerns and walk away from me quickly. But if I am going to be baptized in that river someday, I cannot condemn them. I can only try to pinch their supply lines enough to keep the channel clear.

Perhaps due to my nagging, Renner, the Hope Chest’s operations chief, got “a smaller dumpster on wheels, so we can bring it inside at night” just this week. A smelly solution that will only cut out about half of the stuff I see being discarded along the riverbank. That’s because a lot of people bring donations to Hospice after hours, and despite a large sign asking that no donations be left after closing time, they drop them off behind the store. That’s when the homeless pounce.

But I’ll give this new little rolling bin a chance to prove itself. The river and I have big hopes for it.

Taylor is a resident of Oakdale and a behavior analyst. Send questions or comments to columns@modbee.com.

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