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Home » Uncategorized » Health Council’s Unhoused Taskforce “Springs” into Action on Earth Day

Health Council’s Unhoused Taskforce “Springs” into Action on Earth Day


Saturday, April 22, 2023; Silver City, NM:  This year Earth Day, The Grant County Community Health Council’s (GCCHC) Unhoused Taskforce did a little spring cleaning and removed over 165 pounds of litter and debris from the Big Ditch with the aid of a group of electric volunteers dedicated to forging a better future for residents.

“We had a lot of support from both local and out-of-county partners,” GCCHC Coordinator Valerie Kling said of the spring-cleaning effort in conjunction with Mayor Ken Lander’s Toss No Mas anti-litter campaign.

“The GCCHC Unhoused Taskforce contribution to Earth Day was an opportunity to bring people from all walks of life who love the Big Ditch together – including the people who enjoy the area, and the people seek shelter there,”  Kling said.

Led by the Grant County Community Health Council’s Unhoused Taskforce led volunteers to remove 165 pounds of litter from the Big Ditch, and brought agencies together with people who have taken shelter in the ditch to raise awareness of services available to support the homeless in the community.

The Big Ditch is a 55-feet deep arroyo which once served as Silver City’s Main Street, but historic flooding in the 1890’s washed away the business thoroughfare leaving what is now the San Vicente Creek Open Space, a green parkland which includes a creek and trail that bisects the town.

This open space draws the community to its shaded respite from the sun and busy Bullard Street – and where unhoused people sometimes seek short-term shelter. The arroyo can prove dangerous when unexpected nighttime flooding puts sleeping people at-risk of drowning. In 2017, such a nighttime flood cost four people their lives – two of which were camping in the Big Ditch and swept away by the quick-rising waters.

Such risks are faced daily by the unhoused, a recent study by the University of California found people living in homeless shelters, encampments and without traditional housing are 3.5 times more likely to die prematurely.

The GCCHC Unhoused Taskforce is working locally to turn that statistic around while bringing awareness to the issue and services to people in need of secure housing. Health Promotion Specialist with New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) Phoebe Schroeder is a member of the taskforce and said its objective is “to bring together partners and advocates from various sectors to work collaboratively on the problem of homelessness.”

“Our hope is to not only address the immediate needs of the housing security and those who provide services, but to work on systemic change as well,” Schroeder said. The Earth Day spring-cleaning effort was one of the taskforce’s successful activities bringing providers to interact with the unhoused population who seek shelter in the Big Ditch.

On Earth Day, volunteers removed over 165 pounds of litter from the Big Ditch during the Grant County Community Health Council’s Unhoused Taskforce Spring Cleaning campaign.

“We wanted to give people a chance to work together on a common goal while offering harm reduction education and outreach to unhoused people,” Kling said.

The taskforce was joined by agencies and providers who offer services for those experiencing housing insecurity including the NMDOH, Supporting People in Need (SPIN) and partners, Silver City Gospel Mission, community health workers, local firefighters, EMTs, and paramedics.  

Silver City Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Fell said the spring cleaning gave a chance to listen to the needs of the homeless in the area while offering a chance at harm reduction for the community, “Part of the reason we did this is because we heard community concerns regarding needles being discarded in the Ditch – we listened, investigated this area, and we were pleased that none were found.”

NMDOH HIV Health Educator for the Southwest Region Mark Sanchez offered advice regarding finding a discarded syringe, “Do not touch the syringe with your bare hands. You should alert the local public health office about where the syringe is located – they’ll have safety protocols in place for safe removal and disposal. If the syringe is near your home, you can let the city department, local authorities, or local public health office know and properly trained staff can pick up the syringe.”

For the spring-cleaning Kling said, “This was a great steppingstone for future engagement.” The GCCHC recently was transferred from the management of Grant County to the Center for Health Innovation, a nonprofit that serves as New Mexico’s Public Health Institute which also manages the Hidalgo County Health Council.

For information on the GCCHC Unhoused Taskforce please contact Kling at For more information on the GCCHC or the Center for Health Innovation visit