Volunteer group Spruce Up Snohomish cleans town weekly
Doug Ramsay photo
Spruce Up Snohomish’s Shayn Bancroft (walking) and Sara Thein team up to pick up trash along state Route 9 at the southbound off-ramp to Second Street in Snohomish earlier this month.
SNOHOMISH — It all started with a needle.
“They’re just dangerous for the people and the animals,” said Shayn Bancroft.
Now, a response team is doing weekly cleanups to pick up health hazards and eyesores left by local drug users and litterbugs.
The group Spruce Up Snohomish started with four volunteers and has added a few since. They are accepting more volunteers.
Bancroft founded the group.
His work is compelled by what happened while walking in his neighborhood. He found a
hypodermic needle tucked into a pile of clothes at the library, his adoptive mom Julie Bancroft said. Shayn said he called the police and they picked it up but left the pile of clothes there.
Bancroft is one of eight kids, five of them adopted. He said his childhood prior to age 6 was marked by his biological mother’s alcoholism and his birth father’s absence. He and his family of 10 moved to Snohomish about five years ago. But Bancroft said he woke up one morning, at age 21, and had an epiphany: He needed to forgive his birth mother.
Forgiveness came with action.
“We have to protect the people who are struggling also,” he said, referring regularly to the homeless people he has connected with on his clean ups, referring to them as “our homeless.”
He said the group finds five to seven hypodermic needles a week. The city receives the needles and garbage. The police department receives found wallets.
Bancroft has a goal to respond at a moment’s notice. Mayor John Kartak said he once called Shayn when the gazebo near First Street was messy with discarded garbage and smeared with a Hostess pie. The group arrived within five minutes, Kartak said.
“What an impressive kid. He has always been, ever since I have known him,” Kartak said.
The two meet almost every week.
Kartak said he’s not surprised by Bancroft’s decision to reach out to homeless people and clean up the city.
“He was in a position of responsibility at a young age,” Kartak said, mentioning Bancroft’s role in his large family. “He has a strong sense of protection that he wants to provide.”
His motivation to help everyone is a personality trait, says his adoptive mom.
Shayn has no mechanism to be deflated by the word “no,” Julie Bancroft said, so when the fix he sought did not exist, he made one.
When the group is not out on a cleanup, Shayn travels Snohomish by bike and by foot looking for needles to clean up.
For some locations that serve as homeless encampments, the messes form again so the group keeps going back. He finds time to talk to the people who live there, and sometimes tries to convince them to get help.
Shayn shows a quiet strength and a soft spoken conviction that he does not hide when talking to officials or homeless people.
The homeless population is a part of the Snohomish community, Bancroft said, and he does not leave them out of his goal to make them safer. He checks on the now-familiar faces, some who live outdoors, as he traverses city streets and picks up refuse.
“I know most of them, and they know me,” he said.
“He’s trying to do something most people won’t do,” said a man who identifies as Smitty. He says he’s not homeless, but a resident of “the starlight motel.” When that is met with a look of puzzlement, he says, “look up, at night.”
Smitty works odd jobs to get food, beer and tobacco. He hand-rolls a cigarette and talks about how he got there, joking at intervals, showing deep smile lines. He makes his living day to day, checking in with local businesses for odd jobs. He said the homeless community is a tribe, and they take care of each other. If one has food, they share with the group.
When the former Seattle-Snohomish Mill caught fire last month, Smitty said he was looking at it across the river as it ignited. He said he was pointing and yelling but a police officer “thought I was high on drugs.” He said moments later, the mill fire was more obvious and help was called.
Bancroft holds no hesitations about talking to anyone.
“He is a dedicated Christian. He sees everyone as equal,” his adoptive mom said.
He’s been warned about the health hazards of needle collection, but responds that the group is cautious. Every volunteer is outfitted with protective gear such as gloves. Bancroft brings sharps containers for collection: red lidded buckets used to safely transport needles.
Critics have asked Bancroft: “why not just call the police” to pick up needles? Bancroft counters that the police are busy, and they need help, too.
The environmental and aesthetic impact of roadside garbage is what motivates volunteer Sara Thein, who founded Clean Up Washington, which focuses on keeping public lands such as hiking trails clean. Thein said she and Bancroft share a passion but under different focal points. His is safety. Hers is beautifying public places.
Their end-result goal is the same: a spruced up Snohomish.
They hope to develop a better system for people to alert them about clean up needs, Thein said. They might buy a group cell phone. For now, the all-volunteer group uses Facebook and makes a regular presence at public meetings.
Last week, the group attained nonprofit status.
Nonprofit status gives a sense of “legitimacy,” Thein said. It will also allow the group to take small donations, but it cannot provide tax deductions at this time. Its treasurer said one donor has already given some funds.
Information about Spruce Up Snohomish
Spruce Up Snohomish is accepting volunteers. They are able to accept donations as well, but they are not ready to offer a tax-deductible option. Spruce Up Snohomish meets regularly every other Tuesday at the Snohomish Library, 311 Maple Ave. The next meeting is 6 p.m. Oct. 1. The Facebook page to find upcoming cleanup dates is
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