ACR Health cleans up debris at vacant Butler Pavilion as homeless residents shelter on Main Avenue

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WATERTOWN — Piles of clothing, firewood, tent poles and rotting fruit were among heaps of debris cleared from the Butler Pavilion this week.

ACR Health began digging out what residents left behind when they moved into a makeshift shelter on Main Avenue ahead of the storm that arrived Nov. 18.

The lake-effect storm dumped more than 5 feet of snow in Watertown by the end of the weekend. State and federal emergencies were declared for rescue and cleanup efforts in the region.

The majority of the homeless people staying in the Joseph M. Butler Sr. Pavilion in the J.B. Wise parking lot had been sleeping in tents. About 20 people have since been sheltering in the former DealMaker Auto Group body shop. The space has heat, cots, running water and bathrooms.

Jefferson County Legislator Scott A. Gray has helped coordinate the emergency shelter with the building’s owner, local businessman P.J. Simao, and connected various agencies and volunteers to make it happen.

With the pavilion now vacant, Roberto Gonzalez and Carolina Diaz from ACR Health spent Tuesday morning with volunteers separating trash, clothes and other discarded items.

Ms. Diaz said that any clothing that was salvageable would likely go to the Main Avenue shelter. City public works crews planned to clear out the remaining items.

Nonprofit ACR Health, with newly opened offices in the Barton & Loguidice building on Court Street, provides health education programs, insurance assistance, youth and family services and a syringe exchange program, among others.

“We get the information on where any live sharps might be or any hazardous materials, and then we regroup as a team and make sure that we have our safety components that we need to do safe pickups,” Mr. Gonzalez said. “Gloves, grabbers, pickup, any other safety materials like goggles, boots, long sleeves. We have a process on how we look for sharps and typically contain them.”

Mr. Gonzalez said that he has not done a cleanup the scale of the pavilion in Watertown before. They typically do larger cleanups in the spring and summer and sometimes the fall, but once winter arrives in the north country, everything is buried beneath snow.

“It’s kind of a unique situation because you still see stuff on the pavilion and inside the pavilion, which is a huge benefit to us,” Mr. Gonzalez said, because it allows them to pick up everything now, rather than waiting for the snow to melt.

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