From illegal dumping to panhandling, Guam mayors' woes go beyond urging people to stay home

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HAGÅTÑA (The Guam Daily Post) — Encouraging people to comply with stay-at-home mandates and delivering food and other aid to struggling residents have been keeping mayors and their staff busy these days.

Village mayors discuss village cleanup efforts during a Mayors' Council of Guam meeting on Nov. 6, 2019. 

The Guam Daily Post file photo


There's also increased illegal dumping, panhandling, homelessness and some suicide concerns that mayors have to deal with, as Guam continues the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

Villages have seen an increase in the volume of trash strewn on the ground during the pandemic, Tamuning Mayor Louise Rivera, Agana Heights Mayor Paul McDonald and Sinajana Mayor Robert Hofmann said.

"Illegal dumping is very active. There's an increase in that activity," McDonald said. "I believe that's because people cannot go to their workplace or other areas where they normally throw their trash, so they leave the garbage in the village."

Mayors, McDonald said, have been given authorization to bring trash to Harmon twice a day for disposal, instead of the normal once-a-day routine.

"That helps a lot so that we can deal with the increased illegal dumping," the Agana Heights mayor said.

Higher volumes of trash

Piti Mayor Jesse Alig and Hofmann said another factor in the increased volume of trash is that residents have been cleaning up around their homes, now that they have been home for the most part.
"There is an increased number of requests to dispose white goods and bulky items, which we are unable to accept at this time," Alig said.

The Piti mayor said this is because of social distancing mandates, as well as to prevent mayor's office staff from coming into contact with anyone who is infected with the virus.

"Secondly, we still have not received the Recycling Revolving Fund money to properly dispose these items," Alig said.

Hofmann said there are areas where heavy equipment support is needed to deal with the volume of trash.

"With Guam Solid Waste Authority not picking up recycling (items), it also poses a problem because people don't want piles of papers and cans and glass," he said. "So they've asked if their monthly payments would be reduced. But there was no word there."

Inarajan Mayor Doris Lujan said her village is so far doing all right, but is hoping that residents will stop throwing trash by the road. Her staff continues to pick up trash.

'It's the people that move this virus'

Rivera said the most challenging issues that Tamuning is dealing with are the "homeless and the squatters in abandoned buildings," along with increased panhandling, which can transmit the virus.

"They are receiving cash from strangers out on the road that may be passing the virus. They have no place for water for proper hygiene," the Tamuning mayor said.

For Merizo Mayor Ernest Chargualaf, the toughest part of mayors' jobs right now is to encourage residents to stay at home and maintain social distancing, to keep the coronavirus from spreading further.

"Remember, this virus doesn't travel or move. It's the people that move this virus," Chargualaf said. "I just hope that there are more strict and enforceable measures in place to force compliance from the public. Otherwise, we are in for a long ... pandemic."

Guam's villages — 16 out of 19 have been affected — have a combined total of 141 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 128 recoveries reported, based on Department of Public Health and Social Services data.

Dededo Mayor Melissa Savares on Monday said there are still multiple families having get-togethers, as well as groups of children at recreational sites despite the governor's social distancing and stay-at-home mandates.

Dededo has at least 43 residents who have tested positive for Covid-19, with 37 recoveries.

The mayor said there are no clusters, but the cases have been "spread out" across Dededo.

"We continue to appeal to residents to please stay home and go out only to get food supply and medication. Wear masks when you go to the store and other public places," she said.

Check on those who may need help

The Dededo mayor said her office has also dealt with residents who have communicated thoughts of suicide.

She said her office contacted the 311 telephone hotline and the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center, as well as directly reached out to the residents to provide help.

"During this time, if you know of someone who may need help — it could be your neighbor or friend and not necessarily your relative — check on them by calling them on the phone. And if you have to go to them, maintain a safe distance," Savares said. "It's by helping one another that we can survive this together."

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