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Amid record cleanup requests, 3 Portland-area agencies aim to expand trash pickup

All three plans, one of which is already up and running as a pilot, aim to hire people experiencing homelessness or people recently out of the correctional system.

Maggie Vespa

Brodie Cass Talbott/Trash For Peace

Months away from the start of the new fiscal year, three local government agencies are carving out room in their 2021-2022 budget proposals for programs aimed at solving one of the Portland area’s most pressing -- and most visual -- problems: trash.

This week, representatives for the city of Portland, the Joint Office of Homeless Services and the regional government agency Metro all confirmed they’re hoping to launch, or in one case have already launched, programs that pay people to pick up trash along local streets and highways. 

In all three cases, staff will zero in on hiring specific demographics: people experiencing homelessness or people recently out of the correctional system. They’re also, in all three cases, aiming to pay workers "living wages" with rates as high as $20 an hour.

The plans come in the midst of a record-setting year for garbage pickup. Municipal budgets gutted by the pandemic and a months-long halt in clearing homeless camps produced jarring amounts of trash in and around Portland.

The city's online dashboard, updated last week, shows crews have now collected 2,510 tons of garbage, or more than 5 million pounds. It’s a pace that’s on track to surpass last year’s record of 3,275 tons. A spokesman for Metro confirms the agency is also seeing a record number of requests, with a live dashboard showing 7,268 reports received in the last year.

Last month, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced his office was forming a comprehensive cleanup plan called the "Clean and Green Cleanup Initiative," led by former Mayor Sam Adams. As part of that, he promised several local agencies, including Metro, would ramp up trash pickup efforts across the city. At the time, details were still in the works.

Now, as vaccinations speed up and the pandemic winds to a close, new plans are coming into focus, with multiple agencies looking to make up lost ground in Portland’s battle with trash. And they’re looking to get funds for these programs solidified in the 2021-2022 fiscal year, which begins July 1st.