The city of Los Angeles has resumed its CARE Plus homeless encampment cleanups after the cleanups were paused during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year, the city council voted to resume the cleanups, which require the homeless to take down their tents so the Los Angeles Sanitation Department can sweep and wash the streets and remove trash and waste from the area, beginning on Sept. 1, with amendments for “enhanced street engagement strategies” proposed by Councilmembers Mike Bonin and Nithya Raman. Those strategies include EZ-up tent distribution and exchanges, along with water bottle and sanitary kit exchanges, and voluntary trash disposal options.
The CARE Plus cleanups are regularly scheduled by Mayor Eric Garcetti’s office in areas that need cleaning the most, Los Angeles Department of Public Works spokeswoman Elena Stern told The Epoch Times. The comprehensive cleanups remove tents and hazardous items and sanitize the streets.
The city typically does about 20 cleanups across the city per day. During the week of Sept. 6, cleanups took place in nine of the city’s 15 districts.
Some Angelenos expressed concern for the unhoused people whose shelters and belongings were destroyed by the sanitation crew.
“The [cleanup crew] put the police tape up, and they really just went at it and started destroying everything with very minimal going through belongings,” Peggy Lee Kennedy of Venice Justice and Service Not Sweeps said. “They had, I guess for these four blue tabs that they stored people’s belongings in, but [everyone’s belongings were mixed up]. And a front loader was pushing things and sort of crushing them, and then a crane picked everything up and threw it in the trash truck—full tents and everything.”
Kennedy said that some of the people in the encampment who had mental health issues didn’t respond well to their tents being destroyed. While some replacement tents were given to people who asked for them, the tents the sanitation crew gave out were “a joke.”
“Nobody wants those cheesy tents. No full-grown man is going to take those little tents. They’re like little child tents,” she said.
Other residents welcomed the cleanups, citing health and safety concerns about the unhoused with drug addictions and mental health issues.
Venice Beach resident and community activist Rick Swinger took a picture of one of the buckets collected by the cleanup crew filled with needles, knives, and other sharp objects. Swinger told The Epoch Times that many of the homeless in the area were addicted to meth, which causes users to suffer many small strokes as well as short-term memory loss, affecting their ability to clean up after themselves.
“You’ve got many cases where there are people that are so strung out on meth that they’ve had many strokes. Their short-term memory is gone, so they don’t even remember when the last time they shot up [meth] was, and they get these needles, and when you’re in that condition, you dump everything on the ground,” he said.
Venice Family Clinic, a local medical clinic with an emphasis on harm reduction, offers people free needles in addition to other services. Swinger thinks this is a mistake, as it’s led to many discarded needles in the street that could potentially contaminate the city’s water and oceans.
“[Venice Family Clinic] does a lot of good work there, don’t get me wrong, but they made a huge mistake with this one,” he said. “They should have a needle exchange—one for one, but instead they’re giving them away. And that’s why we get all these needles in the streets.”
Kennedy, however, said the cleanups are especially hard on those with major mental health issues, whose tents are often destroyed; she said they often end up displaced because shelters, such as the nearby “A Bridge Home” shelters, don’t have solutions for them.
“Shelters are not great for everybody; it could be a really traumatizing experience. We need permanent solutions … you can’t just throw shelter at people, expect it to work—it’s not working. … Instead, the city is warehousing mentally ill people in jail, and the ones on the street, we’re criminalizing. It’s a thing you have to address. It’s a major thing we have to address to do the right thing for people who have major mental health issues and our homeless,” Kennedy said.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority was not immediately available for comment.