SEATTLE — A grassroots movement to clean up Seattle’s streets and parks has turned into a humanitarian effort to help the homeless.
Andrea Suarez of Seattle was frustrated with the trash scattered across the city. She saw this as an opportunity to take action.
“I was walking through downtown and just had a feeling of defeat on our city looking in ruins,” said Suarez.
As a result, she launched a community movement in September called “I Heart Downtown Seattle” to clean up the city and parks overrun with trash.
“Parks and Recreation cannot keep up with the amount of garbage that is being dumped into our city parks, created by our homeless community, well-intended donations as well as illegal dumping. It’s three specific things, and it’s all part of the problem,” said Suarez.
Suarez’s grassroots movement has attracted hundreds of like-minded people to join the effort. It has brought together neighbors, business owners and area leaders prepared to put in the hard work.
“Andrea, like myself, inspires a lot of people that I know with her optimism and can-do attitude. She’s really tapped into the idea that we all feel a sense of community,” said I Heart Downtown Seattle volunteer Rebecca Laszlo.
The community litter picks gave Suarez a firsthand look at Seattle’s growing homeless population, expanding her mission to address the crisis and work to end homelessness.
“Why not think big. Whatever has been happening for the last several years, decades, has not worked at all. It has failed flat on its face,” said Suarez.
Spending time cleaning near the homeless encampments has given Suarez the opportunity to engage with people and find out what services or resources they need, even helping some find shelter.
“When we get folks off the street, trash and crime go down, and I lead with trash because that’s how it all started. But it doesn’t undermine that getting people housed is obviously the most important mission of all,” said Suarez.
It’s a vision she hopes will foster civic responsibility and ultimately empower people to work together for their community.
“Most importantly, are passionate and willing to go outside every day and do the work. We cannot solve homelessness in theory. We need to solve it by getting outside every day and helping people accept help,” said Suarez.
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