HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Volunteers came out Monday morning to clean up the Mulberry Street Bridge encampment, which Harrisburg city officials have called a public safety hazard. The city has told unhoused individuals there that they need to move out by this Thursday.
Dozens of people came armed with brooms, shovels and garbage bags to pick up trash and other waste around the area.
“Doesn’t matter whether they have means or don’t have means, they’re still people and to me they matter,” volunteer Andy Shay said.
The cleanup effort was organized by The Belong Collective, a faith-based group, to help address some of the health and safety concerns the city indicated last week, including a rat infestation and a spike in criminal activity.
“We feel like we live in a community that cares about people and that would show up if given the opportunity, as you can see today,” founder Justin Douglas said.
Douglas also started a petition opposing the city’s decision to vacate the encampment and pushing officials to find other solutions.
“We need to ask our city officials to reconsider a more humane way than to evict people in the middle of winter,” Douglas said.
If the city finds it essential to move people out of the encampment, Douglas wants officials to extend the January 19th deadline to give nonprofits and other social service workers more time to mobilize resources.
abc27 reached out to the mayor’s office. A spokesperson told us the volunteers’ effort is great, but their own workers have tried that.
“Our public works department has gone down there consecutively to try to clean up all the trash and waste that’s down there,” Mayor Wanda Williams said in an interview Sunday.
The city insists the problem is too big, and the area needs a deep clean and sanitation, which the public works department plans to begin after the encampment is cleared.
The mayor’s office also said it has found a place to relocate people who need a place to go, but Douglas said it only isolates them instead.
“There’s a reason that they’re here (at the bridge), they’re close to the hospital, they’re close to other resources,” he said.
Douglas and volunteers said they recognize that these piles of trash do create a health hazard, but they say evicting people isn’t the answer.
“It’s not saying that the health and safety crisis isn’t real,” he said. “We’re just saying the response could be better.”
Douglas also said he thinks the city made this decision without consulting nonprofits or city residents and without considering more creative solutions like a community cleanup effort.
“The particular outcome would be for them to reconsider their decision to displace this community and instead partner with the nonprofit organizations and the citizens of this city to ultimately remedy the problems that exist here,” he said.
City officials said they will not publicize the location where people can go after Thursday, January 19 in order to protect residents’ privacy, but the mayor’s office said nonprofits and other social service groups are working to help everyone who wants to move get safely to the new location.
The city addressed some criticism of the decision to require people to move out of the encampment last week, saying their focus is the safety of the people living there.
Nonprofits that have spoken with those people say there are real problems in the encampment, but they are uncomfortable with the timeline determined by the city that gives people one week to leave.