What are those violet trash bags about? How Austin hopes to encourage homeless population to clean up their areas

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — For the next six weeks you may see violet-colored trash bags in certain sections of Austin.

It’s a new program the city is trying out to encourage those experiencing homelessness to clean up after themselves. 

But many are still skeptical of its effectiveness. 

“The trash buildup is obnoxious,” said Colin O’Toole, who works at Roppolo’s Pizzaria. “They are homeless; they are not worried about trash on the sidewalk, trash in the alley, trash on the street.”  

He works next to the ARCH, where a large homeless population gathers daily. But the problem exists all throughout the city. 

“We found that by offering someone a trash bag and a designated area for collection, that we got a high level of compliance,” said Taylor Cook, the program manager for the City of Austin’s Service Design Lab. “People really appreciated that service and the dignity of being able to take care of their household waste in a way that most Austinites take for granted.”

Cook’s team has helped come up with a solution. It started when the Watershed Protection Department invited her to design a way to improve management of watershed properties. The department found that many of the people who were littering the waterways were willing to clean up after themselves if given the proper tools. 

The city decided to test this theory in other locations throughout the city. For the next six weeks, violet trash bags will be on hand for people to clean up after themselves 

There are four locations in the city where you can drop off violet bags for pick up: U.S. 183 and Ohlen Road; U.S. 183 and Cameron Road; I-35 and Cesar Chavez Street; Highway 71 and Pack Saddle Pass. 

The city gathered a year’s worth of 311 complaints to target these areas with the most trash complaints. Garbage collectors have added these sites to their routes and will scoop it up weekly.  

But even with bags at their disposal, O’Toole still thinks it won’t work. 

“The idea is good, the ability to enforce and practice it is not possible,” O’Toole said. 

The city said this pilot program is highly adaptable. If you would like to see the trash program brought to your neighborhood, you’re encouraged to place a call to 311. The city will use that data and try to be responsive to those needs.

Similar program in Seattle 

Seattle started something similar just two and a half years ago. 

The Encampment Trash pilot program collects on average 31,000 pounds of trash per month. The bags are given out in areas of unsanctioned encampments where RV camping is frequent. The city currently picks up at 10 such camp sites using purple bags. 

The city also started forcibly removing trash from unmanaged encampments. In 2017, Seattle tossed more than 3,200 tons of garbage from these camps. Last year, it was down to almost 1,200 tons of garbage. The Seattle times reports this year is on the same lower pace as last year. 

The city of Seattle has gone as far as permitting seven villages for homeless people to find stability and housing resources. 

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