Gary Royer has probably seen more malt liquor bottles than most residents of Columbus will see in their lives.
He has picked up and bagged about 650 40-ounce bottles, and hundreds, if not thousands, still need to be removed.
For the past week, his summer vacation, the 50-year-old has been trying to single-handedly clean up an abandoned homeless camp along Rt. 315 just west of Downtown.
Royer said he wrote e-mails to city and state officials, including the governor's office. Someone there told him it wasn't the state's jurisdiction and that he should call the city. Sanitation officials told him to contact the city's advocate for the homeless. He sent her e-mails but hadn't heard back.
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Columbus asked a small group of homeless people to move on and started a counseling and intervention program in February after state officials told the city they wanted to clean up the area, said Erika Clark Jones, the mayor's advocate for the homeless.
The program normally runs smoothly, so Jones hadn't had her outreach workers check the state's cleanup job. She said it's important to restore the area to keep more homeless people from settling there.
She said she was just starting to look into the issue yesterday because a complaint had been filed with the city's 311 call center last month.
Jones said she was surprised to hear there was still a mess and that Royer had invested so much time.
"Oh, no, God bless him," she said. "That's true community service. I hate that he had to do that, but he definitely deserves some recognition from the state."
Ohio Department of Transportation crews planned to take care of the mess and cleared some brush in the spring, but paving and mowing distracted them, said ODOT spokeswoman Nancy Burton.
"We had other issues that quite frankly affected more of the motoring public," she said.
She said she didn't feel comfortable commenting on Royer's effort, but added that state crews ought to get to the area within a few weeks.
Royer could use the help.
The ground yesterday was still a mosaic of bottle caps, Styrofoam, rusted cans, rotting scraps of cloth and broken glass that crunched under Royer's brown work boots, despite 185 bags of trash already collected.
"I couldn't imagine living like this," he said. "They're real survivors, and I guess they had learned to deal with it, but I can't stand to see litter at all."
Royer is the volunteer groundskeeper at the Old Franklinton Cemetery, around the corner from the campsite. Five years ago, he came across Columbus' oldest cemetery and was stunned by the trash and overgrowth.
He cleaned it up.
When the homeless people moved out of their camp, he felt someone should tidy that up, too. He put on some gloves, pulled out his weed trimmer and set to work.
"I think it's one of the single most generous acts I've ever seen," said Carmine L. Menduni, Royer's boss at Columbus Art Memorial. "What's been done to that land is criminal."
Royer couldn't get the city to pick up the trash bags he filled, so the folks at neighboring GFS Chemicals offered to help.
Dave Barric, a GFS employee, got permission to lend Royer the company's Dumpster.
Wednesday, Royer was jumping on a pile of festering mattresses, trying to squeeze them into the container.
"He's awesome," Barric said. "If there were a bunch more people like him, the city would be a lot cleaner."
To contact Gary, please email him -> firstname.lastname@example.org.
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