Most mornings, van dwellers Marc Gervais and David Hendon spend their pre-dawn hours thanklessly picking up trash in Ocean Beach Pier parking lot.
Now, thanks to a webcam on a nearby tattoo parlor, and an out-of-stater who witnessed them doing their “chores” and tipped off local affiliate CBS News 8, which profiled them, the two men have received financial assistance.
That aid has come from a GoFundMe account that to date has netted more than $20,000 to help them in their efforts, and start them on a path toward eventually getting their own place.
Asked what inspired them to help clean up the community, Gervais said it was another anonymous volunteer.
“It was about four years ago and it was this old Obecian named Doug, who walks the beach every single morning,” he said. “He’s 85 years old and he walks from Dog Beach to the tide pools picking trash off the sand, taking the kids toys he finds and puts them on the seawalls so kids can play with them again.”
Added Gervais, “After sitting here for a week watching this old man going along picking up trash we decided, ‘Hell, if he can do it in the sand, we can do it at the pier.’”
“[Doug] doesn’t want the notoriety,” added Hendon. “He does it to keep [the beach] clean and for exercise.”
Asked why they volunteer, Gervais replied: “I just don’t like seeing a beautiful area look like trash. It looks like @#$% to the community. I don’t like looking out at the beauty and seeing ugly. And trash is ugly.”
The two friends, who met at the beach walking their dogs before they were homeless, are on another mission: to change the public’s perception to see the homeless as individuals.
“The public put [homeless] all together with drugs,” pointed out David, adding,” If you ever look around, you can tell the difference. All the tweakers have bikes. That’s one thing they’ve all got.”
“If you’ve got to have homeless, you’d rather have people that respect and care about the community, who are going to try and do something to make it better rather than worse,” said Marc. “I don’t expect the community to change for me. I expect to change for the community.
“If you’re homeless, quit being such a damn pig. Nobody owes you nothin’. You owe everybody else. Get out, pick up around your area, make your section look nicer, and quit drinking and doing drugs. Basically, that’s where most of the problems come from.”
Marc said he and David have “grown” into their chosen roles as public servants.
“We started picking up trash at Dusty Rhodes Park and then we got the van and we started coming down here (OB Pier),” he said. “At first we didn’t have pickers and had to bend over all the time. Now we’ve got pickers so we can do more. We got a broom and started sweeping. It just progressed.”
Being a community volunteer has its downside, noted David.
“Most people know that we come down here every night,” he said. “They just feel like, ‘Oh, we can just go ahead and trash. It’s going to get picked up anyway.’ We’re going to do it anyway, but we shouldn’t have to do that much every night.”
Marc said the best part of volunteer trash picking comes afterward.
“The good part comes when we’re all done and we sit down and we drink a hot cup of coffee and we look out and you don’t see all kinds of trash in the lot,” he said.
Concerning keeping OB clean, Marc said: “It’s a respect thing. If you respect the people in the community in your area, and the people next to you, then harmony exists. When you don’t – harmony can’t exist.”
Visit https://www.gofundme.com/f/kzphw-litterpickers for more information.