Standing atop a pile of ruined, waterlogged mattresses stuffed into a big dumpster gave Hines a new perspective on the devastation that recently visited the homeless camp beneath the Queen City Bridge in Gainesville.
“This is family,” the 60-year-old longtime resident of the camp said while looking out on the 15 or so volunteers who showed up Friday morning to help clean up. “God gonna take care of the bridge.”
Heavy rains over the past month flooded the camp on two occasions after drainage pipes became clogged, backing up tens of thousands of gallons of water and destroying couches, tents and personal belongings in the process.
Workers from the state Department of Transportation replaced the pipes this week, sending most of the water into a ditch alongside nearby railroad tracks and down along its natural course.
Jerry Deyton, pastor of The Way ministry in the industrial area of Gainesville, called on volunteers to help clean up after seeing the floodwaters’ wrath. And that message was received.
“I wanted to come help out because I know the people that live here,” Edna Jackson said. “They’re my friends and Christian brothers and sisters. And they’ve done a lot of work themselves. They deserve some support.”
Removing the enormous amounts of trash and debris from the homeless camp was nothing if not a dirty, thankless job.
But with work gloves on and trash bags in hand, volunteers said they weren’t concerned with keeping clean or earning praise.
“Some of us are a little stubborn,” Edward Bailey said. “We have to help one another.”
Several volunteers said they had long heard stories about the homeless camp and wanted to take the opportunity this Thanksgiving to connect with those in the direst of straits.
“None of us know one another,” Deyton said. “And that’s what I love about this town. Everybody wants to do something. I am grateful for all of them that come. Today, we’re not judging anybody. We’re doing it with love and kindness.”
Brett Braaten worked in federal law enforcement for 30 years, a career that, while important, revealed to him humanity’s darker side.
Cleaning up the camp, however, presented a chance to be a part of something positive, he said.
Braaten filmed the cleanup for The Way and hopes to share the footage as an educational tool to drum up interest and support for local homeless people.
A yellow butterfly, its wings stretched in regal formation, landed on a pile of trash a few feet away from him.
For Hines, who heartily pitched in with the volunteers, Friday was a sign of better things to come.
He hopes those living alongside him in this most vulnerable of places will make an effort to keep the camp clean going forward.
“We got to take care of what’s ours,” Deyton said. “This is ours. I pray for the Middle East, but there ain’t a thing I can do for them. But I can make a difference right here.”