COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - While authorities gradually force people to leave a homeless camp, another group is cleaning up trash left behind.
Keep Colorado Springs Beautiful heads the effort to remove trash and other debris from around the MLK Bypass, just south of downtown Colorado Springs.
A handful of KCSB volunteers gathered a thick layer of trash by hand, stuffed it into bags and placed them into front-end loaders provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation, to be hauled away.
When workers began at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the amount of trash seemed so overwhelming that one might wonder where and how to start.
"It hits home for us -- and for me, being a native here," said Devon Agee, a KCBS supervisor for 15 years. "We've got to keep (going) until we get this all figured out."
KCBS Executive Director Dee Cunningham said the amount of trash was the worst she's seen in 21 years on the job.
"We're seeing larger camps with more objects in them," she said. "From bed frames to file cabinets to microwaves. They're even building structures at these camps."
Among the trash are bedding, furniture and hypodermic needles.
"There's a lot of hazardous issues," said Jacqueline Kirby, of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. "Health issues that go along with a camp of this size, human waste going into Fountain Creek and the needles."
The Sheriff's Office and Colorado Springs police supervised the cleanup to prevent confrontations with any nearby homeless people.
Several years ago, a similar cleanup created controversy when some homeless accused workers of throwing away personal items.
Trygve Bundgaard, a homeless activist with the Coalition for Compassion and Action, was skeptical of the motive behind the cleanup.
"I know there's a perception that the homeless are messy," he said while watching the cleanup. "The rest of us have our trash picked up. People living outside have to haul it a mile or two to maybe find a dumpster that's locked. I really don't care about the trash, I care about the people."
Cunningham said KCSB regularly provides the homeless with trash bags and offers to pick up filled bags if they are placed along the Greenway Trail.
"We once had trash cans on the trail and they became fire pits," she said, implying that the homeless often use fire pits for warmth.
Cunningham said around 70 percent of the trash gathered by KCSB comes from homeless camps.
The trash pickup continues through Thursday.