Russian River Keeper Chris Brokate marks end of Sonoma County watchdog
A local man was on the edge of the waves with a bucket and a pickup doing what he could, and the two decided to meet the following Saturday. Brokate was bringing friends, “and this was our first clean-up,” he said.
Over the following months, Brokate formed a group of regulars soon known as Garbage Patch Kids who participated in regular days to walk the river or canoe in designated areas to clean up trash. Much of what they took out of the river has been deliberately discarded: car batteries, tires, furniture, televisions and other household items, as well as small pieces of trash and trash.
Close work with homeless camps
But it was evident that the waterfront homeless settlements were also a major source of debris. Although initially disgusted by the vast expanses of garbage that so often surround the camps, Brokate soon realized that the lack of trash or disposal was part of the problem.
Soon he and his team provided 55 gallon trash bags to people they encountered and picked them up weekly to transport them to the landfill.
What has come to be known as the “Clean Camp” program has enabled camp residents to respect the environment and make their own surroundings more enjoyable, but also held them accountable for their own actions. It was a unique approach that provided a model that was extended up the river to Cloverdale, as well as to Ukiah.
Brokate has also been asked to share his approach with others in the state, though he’s also known beyond California, he and McEnhill said.
The Clean River Alliance, which Brokate founded in 2016, formalized its waste disposal efforts into a non-profit organization. The group also worked with homeless people in Guerneville on weekly street cleaning efforts. Alliance members also provided weekly meals for the winter shelter at the local Veterans Memorial Building and met with shelter patrons on “Clean Days” Thursday to pick up trash and hand in new bags. garbage.
The group’s respectful relationships with members of the homeless community helped create a bridge through which service providers could also extend their reach, said Tim Miller, executive director of West County Community Services. This included taking temperatures and screening people in camps for COVID-19 last year, he said.
“I don’t know if there was anyone who was more creative and hard working in terms of direct service than Chris,” Miller said. “We talk a lot about collaboration, and we all do it, but his job: he merged medical, environment and housing while improving the image of homeless people in the community like no one else. His energy to make it happen was truly extraordinary.
He noted that Brokate’s commitment to the homeless community was not always viewed positively. Some opponents believed this allowed illegal camping.
It’s “put up with a tremendous amount of ‘in your face’ – physically in your face, as well as attacks on social media – for a long time,” Miller said. “And yet he and his team, because it’s not just Chris, persevered.”
When Brokate first considered starting a non-profit organization, he found a tax sponsor with Russian Riverkeeper. In 2018, the Riverkeeper absorbed the work of the Alliance, putting Brokate as the head of his Clean Team and making him an employee. The job got him away from the green janitorial service he had operated until then in the county.
Brokate has partnered with a wider network of groups and agencies, including county parks, to clean up abandoned homeless camps and pick up trash on the Joe Rodota Trail during a time when more than 200 people lived there. Brokate and his team also installed straw barbs to contain toxic runoff on the scars of wildfires.
His plan in Ecuador is to get into real estate with his brother, who is already a real estate broker there, and use part of his income to fund such beach cleanups.
It already hosted its first when he bought a house there in 2019. This clean-up of 70 volunteers, on “one of Ecuador’s dirtiest beaches”, collected around 4,000 pounds of trash in two o’clock.
He admits that it’s probably time he hung up his orange Clean Team t-shirt and garbage collector. His hip is in disarray, and a shoulder injury that likely warranted medical intervention last year persists.
He has no parents in California and wants to retire close to his family. And he wants to be able to actually retire – a bleak prospect locally, given the high cost of living, he said.
A member of the Sebastopol Sunrise Rotary Club, he is delighted to continue environmental work through connections in Ecuador that he already has through the club, which has devoted new attention to the issues of the environment, drinking water and plastic waste.
But he will also keep an eye on Sonoma County, “looking from afar.”
“I always will be,” he said.
You can reach editor Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or [email protected] On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.