The City Council Friday approved millions of dollars to be spent on an enhanced homeless-outreach and street-cleanup operation recently touted by the mayor as an overhaul of efforts to combat illegal dumping and providing hygiene services for the homeless.
The council allocated more than $6.5 million to the Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation to cover costs of hygiene and health services, cleanup teams that will target high-need areas, bathroom and shower stations and more.
Mayor Eric Garcetti said last week the revamping of trash-cleanup efforts and outreach to homeless communities using “cleaning and rapid engagement,” or CARE, teams would shift the city from simply reacting to complaints about dumping to pro-actively responding to high-need areas.
Each CARE team will be assigned to a specific location — at least one in each council district — to provide cleanup services and help sanitation workers “build stronger relationships with homeless Angelenos in desperate need,” the mayor said.
The teams will receive specialized mental health training and deliver public health resources, including daily trash collection and mobile restrooms to homeless communities.
The plan will increase the number of city sanitation teams from 20 to 30, creating 47 sanitation jobs. The program will also include training of some homeless people who will be paid for taking part in cleanup efforts.
Illegal dumping in Los Angeles has been linked to more than just homelessness. Earlier this month, 85 businesses in the downtown area were cited by county health inspectors for not having proper waste receptacles in violation of the county’s health code.
While hailed by many for its proactive approach to combating street trash, the program is not without doubters. Some activists said this week they’re concerned about the city’s inclusion of police officers in the CARE 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.”
City Councilman Gilbert Cedillo, who sits on the Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee, 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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