Ardmore Clean Team cleans up numerous abandoned homeless camps

Sierra Rains
Members of the Ardmore Clean Team load trash collected from a wooded area off Hollingsworth Drive into a trailer.

Members of the Ardmore Clean Team spent their Saturday cleaning up numerous trash sites and abandoned homeless camps in a wooded area behind the veterans center. 

The small group gathered at Hollingsworth Drive and P Street Southwest, with one large trailer in tow. At approximately 10 a.m., the volunteers slipped on their work gloves and ventured through the woods until coming across their first site. The area was scattered with shoes, blankets and various objects, including a broken trophy and a dream catcher hanging on a tree. 

“It’s just bizarre the stuff that you find,” said Phillip Capshaw, a member of the team. Capshaw discovered the wooded area, which stretches a little over 20 acres, about a year ago. 

Members of the Ardmore Clean Team work together to pass trash through a fence surrounding a wooded area where many homeless camps were found.

While there are many areas across the city where individuals experiencing homelessness will take shelter, this area seemed to be a hot spot. “We’ve cleaned this several times, and this is really clean now compared to what it was the first time we came out here and cleaned— I think we put about six man hours into cleaning it,” Capshaw said. 

Many of what appear to be homeless camps have been spread out across the area, often within about 60 feet of each other, Capshaw said. On one occasion, he and another volunteer spent more than an hour taking down a tarp that had been put up in the wooded area. 

Objects at these sites range “from A to Z,” Capshaw said. On Saturday, the group came across a mattress in the woods, and a teen used a trash picker upper tool to pick up a used syringe. 

Ardmore Clean Team volunteers help gather trash from a homeless camp in a wooded area behind the Ardmore Veterans Center.

“Needles are always concerning,” Capshaw said. “I’ve had a young man doing community service, he got poked with a dirty needle. So we really try to take great lengths now for safety for everyone, to protect them.”

On some occasions, the syringes are still loaded, Capshaw said. Syringes and needles are disposed of in a secure sharps disposal box and many of the metal items and cans are recycled by the team. 

Trash sites are scattered throughout the city, and it’s become a big issue, Capshaw said. But it’s not just the homeless population leaving behind these messes. 

Ardmore Clean Team volunteers help collect trash scattered throughout a wooded area off Hollingsworth Drive.

“The trash on I-35, that’s not from homeless people. It’s just a people problem period,” Capshaw said. “A lot of people who smoke, they don’t consider their cigarettes trash. It would probably be a 40-hour a week job just keeping Main Street clean of cigarette butts and trash.” 

Many people experiencing homelessness face a plethora of mental health issues, and while many of these trash sites do come from homeless individuals, Capshaw said he feels sympathy for them. 

“(Do) We expect the homeless to pick up after themselves with their mental health, addiction issues? I’m sure their self-worth is in the toilet if they’re living on the street,” Capshaw said. “I can’t really get aggravated at the homeless.” 

Ardmore Clean Team members remove a mattress found at a homeless camp in a wooded area behind the Ardmore Veterans Center.

Capshaw said there are no easy or “one-size-fits all” solutions for homelessness, but he and others can help make a difference by keeping the city clean. While the area in the woods might be out of sight, he said keeping it clean will likely prevent more littering in the future. 

It’s also important to keep the downtown area clean, especially when looking to attract new businesses, Capshaw said. Ideally, he hopes to see more people getting out to pick up trash around town. 

“I’ve tried to challenge other civic groups to adopt a street,” Capshaw said. “I think if we did that it would just make Ardmore look better, a better place, proud of our city.”