Homeless group in San Jose pitch in to help clean up city

SAN JOSE (KTVU) -- A group of homeless residents in San Jose near Coyote Creek have banded together to make the area a nicer place to live -- one with less garbage and trash.

Unable to find a permanent job, Russell Hicks has lived along the creek for four years and has been one of those collecting litter from public spaces.

"It looked like a dump," Hicks said. "It was pretty bad with trash all over the place."

At least 30 homeless individuals live in the area and Hicks said it is a battle to keep the area clean. But he said collecting and disposing of the area's garbage keeps him motivated.

"It gives me a sense of purpose," he said. "It gives me a sense of self-worth, self-pride (and) self-satisfaction. I can go to bed at night knowing I did something."

The "Coyote Creek Homeless Stream Stewards" is part of a massive clean-up effort that has launched in the area. Its members say over the last year the group has collected 24 tons of trash. Amanda Fukamoto is leading the effort.

"We aren't stupid," she said. "We are out here on a temporary basis (and) a lot of people out here just need to be educated."

"These are chronic homeless," said homeless advocate Robert Aguirre. "They've decided to take a stand, make a difference and not go along with the situation as it is"

The Santa Clara Valley Water District is responsible for the creek, spending millions of dollars every year to clean it. Board Member Richard Santos said it's helped build partnerships.

"When we introduce ourselves, we have a better relationship and a more productive day," Santos said.

The district is now considering a proposal to house homeless in tiny homes on district property in exchange for their work. It's a solution that still must clear some hurdles before the idea becomes reality. For now, Hicks hopes the clean-up campaign helps change people's perceptions about the homeless, if given the chance.

"Let us prove ourselves," Hicks said. "We are not bad people (just) because we are homeless. A lot of us have a good, hard work ethic."

The group even has a trash raffle. For every two bags collected, the individual has a chance to win gift cards that have been donated to the group.

KTVU reporter Azenith Smith contributed to this report.