EVERETT, Wash. -- Homelessness is a big concern in western Washington, and illegal camps can leave a large and potentially dangerous mess behind. A father and son in Everett accepted the responsibility and the challenge of cleaning their private property and the neighboring lot, after those living there were forced to leave.
Don Koontz says the area is secluded and beautiful.
"I think of this as like a green space... This area is kinda covered by trees and vines and things."
But just two weeks ago, the vines and trees behind Don's dental practice in South Everett gave way to a homeless camp, riddled with needles and trash.
"It's kind of out of sight, out of mind."
Months of not knowing, or perhaps not wanting to know.
"You know it is kind of the fear of the unknown maybe-- I didn't know what was going on back here."
Reality set in quickly for Don and his son Christian, who says, "At first I was a little overwhelmed just because of how much trash there was."
The danger and the mess left behind, after those living there were evicted, became a mission for the Koontzes.
Don was concerned with the safety of the neighborhood.
"Very dangerous, kids could potentially come through here and hurt themselves."
A mission Don signed up for when he bought a building to expand his practice and other medical offices. The land behind it, the homeless knew no boundaries-- and neither did the cleanup.
"The people here compelled me to want to help out. I want to be a good citizen, I want to be a good neighbor."
Over a 5-day period, the pair loaded a 10-yard dumpster with trash and belongings, along with a 5-gallon bucket of needles.
Christian was shocked by the experience.
"You see all these people's belongings and stuff-- and it's all that they own, yeah I was just kind of hurt."
The mission now, Don says, is to continue the cleanup efforts, beyond their property line... even if it isn't their legal responsibility.
"We clean up the homeless camps, it is not a vicious cycle. It's a virtuous cycle and things get better."
Christian is confident he can keep the cycle going.
"Handling that... I can do this for sure."
Now the vines and trees have an opportunity to give way to a clean slate, and a little hope.
Officials with the Office of Neighborhoods in Snohomish County say you should report homeless people living on private properties before taking action.
Contact Snohomish County Sheriff Sergeant Boyer: (425) 308-0037
If you suspect a private property owner is in violation of a county code, you can fill out an online form here or call (425) 388-3311.
Officials remind people you should not clean up camps without the proper equipment and clothing.