GUERNEVILLE (KPIX 5) — In the normally quiet west Sonoma County town of Guerneville, the debate over homelessness is getting downright loud.

Where the town ends, another community begins.

“You’re just seeing a grain of sand here.  You trek into the hills, you’re going to find more encampments. They’re everywhere,” Guerneville resident Walter Thompson said.

But, while there’s a real sharp and often bitter divide over what caused the problem, and how to fix it – there is one area of consensus.

“It’s about the river, and taking care of the river and keeping the stuff from going out into the ocean.  It’s the environment that getting impacted,” Sonoma County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Basurto said.

The trash comes in all shapes and sizes – from simple litter, to electronic waste. A single rainstorm can send any of the debris into the river, and ultimately the Pacific Ocean.

As for the human waste, the environmental protection agency cites the camps as one source of bacterial contamination – and a potential health threat to anyone in the river, including the homeless themselves.

“Whether they’re supposed to be in these places or not, that’s not my concern, it’s about giving them the ability to keep it clean,” Chris Brokate of the Clean River Alliance said.

Chris Brokate started the Clean River Alliance.  He had no idea that he would effectively become a social worker.  But, saving the river has meant reaching deep into the forest, and personally enlisting the homeless in the fight against pollution.

“Within the last couple of weeks, they’ve gotten more than 3,000 pounds of material staged by the highways for us,” Brokate said.

But, all of that progress could easily be lost.

The shelter set up for the homeless is seasonal, meaning the camps, and trash could explode again come spring.

So while a divided community searches for a long term solution to this problem, some are simply trying to keep the problem from spilling into the water.

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