While the people living along the Riviera may dream of bigger yachts and golden tans, those living in tents along the Duwamish River, Seattle's own Superfund site, seem to want two things: more public restrooms and less trash.
That's what the homeless along the Duwamish have told volunteers from the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition, who've been asking what those living closest to the waterway desire most from the area. For weeks, the DRCC has been scouring banks of the river, from the southern tip of Harbor Island to the northern reaches of South Park, asking the homeless they encounter to participate in envisioning a new and healthy waterway. "It's amazing how much information you can find out from a homeless guy in a tent," says Dan Klempner, an Antioch grad student who's been participating in the interviewing.
The interviews of homeless people camped along its shores are part of the DRCC's continuing effort to have community members imagine the future of the city's lone river, deemed one of the nation's most toxic places by the U.S. government in 2001. Over the past couple of months, the DRCC has held numerous community meetings, seeking input from those in Georgetown and Delridge. Gathering the viewpoints of the homeless in the immediate area stands as a prelude to a March 12 meeting geared specifically for those who reside inches away, if not right upon, the PCB's, sewage, and other biohazards poisoning the river and its banks.
Klempner says that, usually, he and another volunteer head out in the morning, on the search for people in tents or even camped out in cars under the Spokane St. Bridge. Sometimes, if they're in luck, he says they'll meet someone face to face and ask how they use the river now or what would make it better; when timing isn't in their favor, he says they'll leave notes inviting them to the upcoming meeting, along with a sandwich, in a plastic bag.
So far, he says, those he's met have said there's a desperate need for more public restrooms. In the stretch of shore the DRCC has traversed, the only restroom homeless people have access to is a porta-potty on Harbor Island. Many of those same people, he says, have complained that the area has become a dumping ground, from household trash and construction material to the toxins spewed into the river in years past by companies along the Duwamish. For the upcoming meeting, Klempner says maps will be provided showing what facilities currently exist along the waterway. Using that as a guide, he says they'll then ask those who attend what services they want to see in the future and these will be drawn on overlays that will cover the maps. Opinions from the homeless for a new vision of the Duwamish are important, he suggests, as they'll offer perspectives that others won't be able to provide: "They know better than most people what's going on down there."