SAN JOSE, Calif. - The largest water provider in the South Bay is initiating measures to maintain cleanliness in waterways and prevent waste accumulation.
Valley Water plans to introduce a program aimed at encouraging unhoused residents living on its land to keep their areas clean.
Jennifer Codianne, Deputy Operating Officer for Valley Water, said," "If you live in a home, the garbage truck can pull up to your home and empty your trash can. That’s not something that can be done along the creek channel, and so we have to think outside the box."
Valley Water officials have expressed that they are facing a daily challenge to prevent trash buildup in homeless encampments.
Pastor Scott Wagers from CHAM Deliverance Ministry, an unhoused advocacy nonprofit, "The biggest complaint with these encampments is blight." Adding, "Where are they gonna take their stuff? If they wanted to clean it out, where can they take their stuff? So, it piles up."
In the upcoming weeks, Valley Water will introduce the "Clean Camps, Clean Creeks" initiative. This program focuses on nine waterways, including Berryessa Creek, Coyote Creek, Guadalupe Creek, Lower Silver Creek, Saratoga Creek, Thompson Creek, and West Branch Llagas Creek.
Valley Water staff members will engage with residents, emphasize the importance of maintaining clean living spaces, assist with waste removal, and provide gift cards as incentives for compliance.
Codianne explained," "Staff would be out there daily communicating with the unhoused residents, letting them know that if their camps are tidy, or if they bag their own trash, that they would be able to get this gift card reward."
Between June 2022 and June 2023, Valley Water removed approximately 2.7 million pounds of trash from encampments on its property.
City officials already offer gift cards to unhoused residents who properly dispose of their trash. However, Valley Water does not believe there will be overlap between the two incentive programs since city payments would not be extended to encampment residents on agency-owned land.
Additionally, an EPA grant will support the installation of new toilets and wash stations.
Codianne said, "The idea is, the less bio-waste entering the creek channel provides a water-quality benefit."
Some advocates for the unhoused community applaud these efforts.
"In theory, it’s a good idea. I think keeping the encampments clean tells everybody, these are people just like us," said Wagers.
Valley Water officials said that the program's annual cost exceeds $500,000, with half of the expenses subsidized by the federal government.
The program is scheduled to launch in the fall and will span four years.
Jesse Gary is a reporter based in the station's South Bay bureau. Follow him on Twitter, @JesseKTVU and on Instagram, @jessegontv.