The City Council Friday is expected to consider spending millions of dollars on an enhanced homeless-outreach and street-cleanup operation recently touted by the mayor as an effort to combat illegal dumping while provide hygiene services for the homeless.
The Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation is recommending funding between $7.5 million and $8.6 million for hygiene and health services, cleanup teams that will target high-need areas, bathroom and shower stations and more.
But some activists say they’re concerned about the city’s inclusion of police officers in the deployment of the so-called CARE — cleaning and rapid engagement — teams.
“There is still an intensity and an intentionality around police enforcement connected to the plan,” Pete White, the executive director of Los Angeles Community Action Network, said during a Thursday news conference at City Hall.
White was joined by representatives of various groups that make up the Services Not Sweeps coalition, which called for a decrease in the amount of police presence during the scheduled sidewalk and street cleanups, saying it could intimidate some of the homeless.
Enrique Zaldivar, the director of Los Angeles Sanitation and Environment, told a City Council committee on Wednesday that police presence is necessary at times during outreach and cleanup efforts.
“We have had incidents where our workers have been threatened, and in some cases there have been assaults, and we have to be mindful of that,” Zaldivar said.
Jane Nguyen, with the organization KTown For All, said her organization has worked with homeless activists for about a year, observing cleanups and speaking with local leaders. She said she saw one person’s tent removed in the middle of winter during a past cleanup effort.
“I was told that we will not arrest our way out of the homeless crisis, but I can tell you what I’ve witnessed, and people are constantly traumatized by sweeps,” Nguyen said.
Officials with L.A. Sanitation said the goal will be to build trust with the homeless community while providing public health protection services, and the LAPD will be “in the background to provide safety for the team members.”
Theo Henderson said he’s been living on the streets since 2012 but has maintained his role as a self-described community educator and marital arts teacher. Henderson said trying to look approachable and not threatening to people and police has been a full-time job in his current economic capacity, while trying to maintain what little he has during cleanups and sweeps.
City Councilman Gilbert Cedillo, who sits on the Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee, heard from sanitation officials during the meeting and made his own suggestions for striking a balance between protection and enforcement.
“There are community groups that have street credit with the homeless … and that’s probably a lot cheaper than LAPD’s cost to have them make the distinction of what is trash and what’s not,” Cedillo said. “We should engage and have a constructive conversation with those groups and redeploy LAPD where their presence plays a constructive role and we have not developed, per say, inflammatory relationships.”
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