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LOS ANGELES — Two City Council members introduced a motion Jan. 12 to stop the city’s mandatory cleanups of homeless encampments and replace them with voluntary, service-based protocols that are in compliance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
The motion authored by Nithya Raman and Mike Bonin specifically calls for service-based protocols that:
• Occur on a regular schedule.
• Offer services including trash and bulky item pick-ups.
• Create designated areas for trash and waste to be placed for disposal and removal.
• Use community partners and ambassadors for outreach and facilitation.
• Provide easy-ups or shade structures to help unhoused people temporarily relocate with their belongings during cleanups.
• Provide mobile showers, bathrooms, COVID-19 testing, tent exchange and distribution, and food and water.
• Hire unhoused Angelenos to keep areas tidy between cleanings.
• Provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.
• And do not involve law enforcement personnel.
The council members said that Los Angeles policy should be guided by the Hippocratic oath, “first, do not harm.” They contrasted Los Angeles’ policy to conduct forced cleanups during which unhoused residents must take down their tents and move their belongings, to the CDC’s guidelines, which state: “If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”
Raman and Bonin said the city should institute a voluntary program that offers cleanup services and the removal of trash and hazardous waste without threats of confiscation, as advocated by the Services Not Sweeps Coalition. That type of program was piloted in Bonin’s Council District 11, according to the motion.
Through that pilot, L.A. Sanitation and Environment workers provide voluntary service during a regular schedule, similar to how sanitation services are provided to residential customers, according to the motion.
Raman said the pilot program proves that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between Angelenos’ desire for clean streets and the rights of unhoused people.
“When our unhoused neighbors are given the same sanitation services as our housed ones, and engaged with collaboratively, we can build a system that benefits all Angelenos,” she said in a statement to City News Service.
“I am proud to co-present a motion that takes this philosophy citywide.”
According to the motion, Los Angeles’ initial policy of suspending involuntary cleanups at the beginning of the pandemic helped keep COVID-19 cases low among the city’s homeless population.
“COVID rates in encampments were lower than rates in congregate shelters and bridge housing,” the motion says.
However, infections have increased sharply in recent weeks along the same lines as the general population, and as of Jan. 4, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported 4,578 cases among people experiencing homelessness.
The motion’s authors noted that their highest priority is to provide a suitable housing alternative to sidewalk encampments, but in the meantime and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they first want mandatory cleanups to stop.
“In the middle of a deadly pandemic, we need to take every necessary step to protect public health. That means giving unhoused people a safe place to stay — and refraining from displacing them when we fail to provide them a place to stay,” Bonin said.
“The city keeps trying to clean encampments through a program that forces people out of their tents and confiscates their belongings,” he said. “Instead, the city should humanely provide a voluntary sanitation program that offers a service, just as we do to housed people. That’s what Councilmember Raman and I proposed today”
A Superior Court judge Jan. 11 denied homeless advocates’ request for a temporary halt to the cleanups amid the pandemic, saying, “Nothing the city does precludes petitioners from wearing masks (made available by the city when necessary) and/or practicing social distancing outside of the encampment areas — acts any citizen of the city undertakes to minimize the risk of COVID-19.”
Councilman Joe Buscaino, who has a motion pending to restore CARE+ cleanups, praised the judge’s decision.
“This week a court agreed with me that comprehensive homeless encampment cleanups do not increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 or place our unhoused residents in harm’s way,” he said. “In fact, I believe we as a city have a duty to clean our sidewalks and preserve the public health and safety of our outdoor spaces, especially during a pandemic. That’s why I’ve fought to restore cleanups around our Bridge Home shelters and have requested that comprehensive cleanups be resumed citywide.”