Sara Epley, a volunteer at the Santa Fe Depot Museum in Shawnee, said it's not uncommon to find signs of the homeless loitering around the museum at night, but a mess found Wednesday morning has Epley baffled.
The park bench outside the depot was covered in grease, she said, with untouched greasy food, from chicken and fish to burritos, thrown all over the brick sidewalk.
"Everyday is something new," Epley said about arriving to open the museum. While Wednesday's discovery was different and surprising, she said it was a mess to clean up and a waste of food to those she assumed would have been hungry.
"It was enough food to feed three people," she said.
The bench sits up against the historic depot building, which is located in the 600 block of East Main.
In the past, there's been evidence of the homeless loitering around the depot, especially at night, with volunteers discovering many had been using an outside electrical outlet to charge cell phones, she said.
And just two weeks ago, there were two people reportedly taking a shower at the outside water hydrant by the Beard Cabin.
"There were soap suds in the yard," she said, and shampoo bottles and towels thrown around.
The city has now turned off that water supply, she said, so Epley believes that might be one reason loiterers are leaving such a mess.
"It's continually something every morning," she said. "We're getting tired of cleaning up after them."
In the past, the homeless have slept under the outdoor arches of the depot, she said, but they recently had to call police when one man with two dogs was found there. In addition, she said, police have been called for those who set up tents by a fence along the depot grounds.
Epley is concerned about the depot, which is not only a museum, but also an historic structure and tourist attraction.
"That's not my depot — it's the city of Shawnee's depot," she said. "It's a treasure."
While they cleaned up the mess there Wednesday, a man was discovered sleeping behind the Beard Cabin on the depot grounds.
Epley said it's possible there's been more loitering at the depot lately with the recent removal of many benches at nearby parks.
James Bryce, director of operations for the city of Shawnee, confirmed about 18 parks benches were removed in the past couple weeks from Celebration of Life Park and Centennial Park, both on Main Street, because of issues with the homeless.
Bryce called it a "proactive way" in trying to come up with a solution to all the loitering.
Page 2 of 2 - Bryce agreed it's possible the removal of those benches has caused more problems at the nearby depot, but said there's also been problems at the depot in the past.
"It's a hard solution to come up with," he said.
In the days after the park benches were removed in the two downtown parks, Shawnee Police Chief Russell Frantz said he noticed a considerable difference as far as the homeless sleeping in those usual areas, but he said the city is considering other ideas as well.
Watch for updates.