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Trash Service Street Survey Results

2023 HAND Trash Services Survey 1 – Data Analysis

In July of 2023, 59 total respondents were surveyed regarding a trash services program. All respondents were currently houseless. Locations surveyed included:

Below are the questions asked on the survey, followed by the analysis of responses. 

Question 1: What type of trash receptacle do you think would be best at encampments you stay at? 

Responses: Out of 57 people who answered Question 1:

HAND recommendation based on Question 1

Whenever there is an area with space for a dumpster, there should be one placed there. It can also be best to combine the use of dumpsters with rolling bins near each tent – all of which are serviced regularly. Easy access to trash bags will streamline trash collection and lead to more trash in dumpsters. When there is no space for a dumpster, the standard city rolling trash cans or trash cans attached to the sidewalk can be best, yet still their success is dependent upon the stability (or lack thereof) of a camp facing sweeps that force them to move continuously. Many people named rolling trash cans because they are used to being forced to move on a regular basis, and this would allow them to continue having trash service as they move.

Trash service should also include biohazard boxes securely attached to a pole or permanent fixture in the area. 

The suggestion for trash bag dispensers that are similar to dog poop bag dispensers is a great idea that could allow for regular distribution of trash bags. Rolls of bags could be put in the dispenser (ideally with some sort of lock) every time trash pickup happens.

Question 2: How many trash cans do you think are needed for encampments per block? (e.g. 1,2,3… per block)

Responses: Out of 51 people who answered Question 2:

HAND recommendation based on Question 2:

At least 2 trash receptacles should be placed on every block. In most cases, many more are needed, and in close proximity to each tent/encampment. There should be some flexibility as camps grow or shrink to add more, take away, or move receptacles as needed.

Question 3: How many times a week do you think these trash cans should be emptied? (e.g. 1,2,3… per week)

Responses: Out of 55 respondents who answered Question 3:

HAND recommendation based on Question 3:

Trash receptacles should be serviced at least twice per week. In many cases, more frequent trash pick up will be needed. There should be flexibility to be able to add additional pick up days as needed. That being said, the more consistency in pick up days, the better, so as to ensure people know when trash pick up is expected. 

Question 4: What locations would you like to see trash services?

Responses: Out of 53 respondents who answered Question 4:

HAND recommendation based on Question 4:

All large and visible encampments should have trash services. Areas with the most houseless services need the most trash services. Areas where there are usually encampments should be prioritized for trash service. These areas are the ones that have the most frequent sweeps and can be determined from the City record of posted sweeps. Small and hidden camps also need trash service, but often do not want to be identified for safety reasons for fear of attention and sweeps. These camps should have a way to still utilize a dumpster or trash cans nearby with access to trash bags without being identified.

Over all, the success of this program will depend on the City’s ability to re-instill the trust that has been lost from years of cross-reporting between departments that lead to continued criminalization and persecution of people simply trying to survive. An example of a trash service program that has compromised the safety of encampments is the Denver BID’s Colfax cleaning crew that has been trained to contact the SET team upon discovering a new encampment area, leading to harassment from authoritarian forces and police. Hygiene/ sanitation support are community supports that should be used to prevent the need of over-policing, not create a vessel for it. We must be vigilant in avoiding this same outcome with a new trash service. 

Question 5: What methods do you think are best to incentivize or assist people living at encampments to clean the camp? 

Responses: Out of 42 respondents who answered Question 5:

HAND recommendation based on Question 5:

Many innovative ideas can be used to assist in residents cleaning encampments! The City should support efforts to this effect. This could be done through a houseless cleaning crew (similar to the one that used to exist through Bayaud Enterprises called Triangle Works – but with some key changes to the program). It could also happen through periodic cleaning times where cleaning resources are brought to the camp and individuals participating in the cleaning get gift cards for their work. Additionally, there are many houseless community members who would be ideal for an encampment lead role given training, cleaning resources, and some sort of gift for maintaining the camp (likely better for smaller camps). We can positively shift the narrative and power dynamics of such a program by having cleaning day parties with food, games, and cleaning time. There are any number of other creative ways to support camp residents in cleaning the area while garnering trust and building relationships for a more empathetic community model.

As noted in the survey findings, providing cleaning supplies is necessary. 

As was suggested un-prompted by 31% of respondents, hygiene resources like bathrooms and water are also fundamental to keeping a camp clean and keeping people healthy. These should also be provided at encampments. (More detail can be shared on this later).  

Question 6: How would you like to be notified of any trash pick up schedule? 

Responses: Out of 44 respondents who answered Question 6:

HAND recommendation based on Question 6:

Most people prefer notice of a schedule be posted physically at the encampment where trash service is provided. This might work best as a metal sign or sticker (that will not get destroyed and need to be constantly replaced) attached to the trash receptacle. Knowing the pick up schedule is critical for an effective trash service and for trust in the encampment. As noted by many respondents, people want to know the day and time and want a consistent schedule. 

Question 7: How should City trash crew be trained to ensure they only take trash and not anyone’s property and what other methods should be used to ensure only trash is collected and not property?

Responses: Out of 40 respondents who answered Question 7:

HAND recommendation based on Question 7:

As is clear from respondent’s answers, current City trash pick up and sweeps do not lead people to trust that the City crews will only take trash when in an encampment. This pattern of City crews taking property necessitates clear processes to ensure this does not happen as part of trash services. 

A key principle is to “ask first” and if workers can’t get an answer through asking because no one is present or for whatever reason, unless it is the most obvious trash (wrappers, etc), they should assume something is property and leave it. 

To prevent the need for asking and make it even more straightforward what is trash and not, the recommendation of designated trash areas should be used. Ideally there will be enough trash receptacles and enough servicing of these receptacles that trash will not need to be gathered around the receptacles. But since most survey respondents are used to there not being enough receptacles or servicing, their recommendation of an area next to the receptacles is important. Bottom line is trash is only being collected by City crews from receptacles or designated areas, not throughout the encampment. The gathering of trash from throughout the encampment into trash receptacles should not be done by city crews, but should be done by residents, a newly hired houseless trash crew, or a community effort. 

As is named by many respondents, City crews involved in trash collection in any case need to be trained to respect the houseless community and be trauma informed. This issue was named unprompted by 18 respondents. 

Question 8: What other ideas do you have for trash services for people living at encampments?

Responses: Out of 27 respondents who answered Question 8:

HAND recommendation based on Question 8:

It is important to recognize that a good percent of people living in encampments do see their individual responsibility in keeping their space clean. Providing the necessary services to enable people to do this effectively is critical to this goal. 

Providing trash service and then at the same time sweeping the camp will not be effective. Proper trash service requires keeping trash receptacles in place, keeping a regular schedule, and building trust at encampments to maintain a clean camp. If a camp receiving trash service is then swept a week later, this will defeat the purpose and lead to further breakdowns of trust in the trash service.


People living in encampments want trash services. These trash services must be entirely separate from any sweeps (traumatic displacements) or past practices of City crews “cleaning” encampments which involves taking and trashing camp residnet’s property. In order to do this, trash services should focus on providing trash receptacles and consistent servicing of these trash receptacles. This work should not involve City trash crews going through encampments to collect trash, but simply collecting trash from the receptacle or designated areas. Any work to collect trash in the encampment should be done by residents with gifts, a new paid houseless trash crew, or a community effort. The success of these trash services will depend on continual re-vision as camp residents, trash crews, and others involved learn what works and what does not work. This revision process must be based on the feedback from camp residents and involve advocates who can work with camp residents to synthesize feedback.    

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