A Success Story: First Person Helped by Hands Across Montecito Leads Cleanup

By Heal the Ocean   |   September 14, 2021

The “Holy Grail” of abandoned homeless sites was tackled on August 30 in a cleanup being done by a team of homeless workers who have been enlisted by Earthcomb, the brainchild, and business of Andrew Velikanje.

The site, located at the end of South Kellogg Avenue in Goleta, is the second in Heal the Ocean’s list of more than 20 abandoned camps identified in a survey done by HTO Field Advisor Harry Rabin. The first site, in the South Fairview area of Goleta, HTO paid Earthcomb to tackle, and Andrew cleaned it up himself, with the pile of bags picked up by MarBorg Industries the next day.

Inspecting the sites listed on Rabin’s survey, Andrew came to site “Number 6,” next to the Schwan Brothers Excavating Contractors yard on South Kellogg, and called Hillary Hauser, executive director of Heal the Ocean, and said, “This is the Holy Grail!”

It was mammoth and it was bad. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Ben Sandu was brought in to inspect and OK the cleanout, while Brian Borgatello of MarBorg Industries came in to size up the need for roll-offs/trash bins, and more manual labor.

The Schwan Brothers were so glad to see the cleanup coming, they have offered their own roll-off/trash bin, and even to pay for the hauling and dumping (thank you, Jason, this represents considerable savings to HTO!). The Earthcomb workers cleared it out, with MarBorg gathering up the rest.

“No wonder Andrew called it the Holy Grail — it is giant, and is right smack on San Jose Creek,” Hauser said.

Hauser says the work of Earthcomb might be the most significant work that could be done to remove ocean pollution sources from storm drains, creeks, or runoff to the ocean.

Earthcomb has cleaned up nearly nine tons of trash from the Rincon underpass, Rincon Bluffs, Carpinteria Bluffs, East Beach, Painted Cave, Highway 154, Lake Cachuma, and many other sites. You can see his “Vroom Vroom” videos that record this work on his Earthcomb website, where the motto is, “We’re cleaning up what you’re putting down.”

Andrew created the Earthcomb website – and did the work on earthcomb.org – singlehandedly while living in his car for six months. He is an illustration of one of the successful methods of “functional zero,” which is to get to know the homeless person by name and get to know his/her experience.

Sharon Byrne, executive director of Hands Across Montecito, has formed a successful group that visits encampments with this in mind — and it is this group that pulled Andrew indoors. Andrew now does outreach to other homeless people. Sandu does the same and has successfully found shelter for several people who had been living outdoors.

As for Andrew, he now has a home, with an office where he has set up a system to keep track of his work and his workers, for the benefit of us all.

Anyone interested in contributing snacks, water, etc. for the workers, please call the Heal the Ocean office for site location and/or to drop off items at the site or office. Call Alison at (805) 965-7570 for information or directions.


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