‘This just ain’t no tent’
of trash, according to the sanitation bureau.
The cleanup process
The process usually begins when someone submits a request by calling 311 or using the MyLA311 app. City sanitation workers scout the site to verify the existence of an encampment and then schedule it for cleanup, which occurs on average two weeks later, city data show.
Signs are posted 72 hours in advance to inform homeless people of the pending sweep. Outreach workers from the L.A. Homeless Services Authority visit the location to encourage residents to seek housing and treatment services.
On cleanup day, large trash trucks rumble down the street, accompanied by biowaste teams in white suits. Police officers are there in case anyone resists, which officials said is rare.
The protocol requires sanitation workers to provide each homeless person with a 60-gallon plastic bag to fill with belongings. If there’s too much personal property to fit in the bag, the remainder must be tagged and transported to a downtown storage facility to be held for 90 days. Often that doesn’t happen.
“The majority are gone before we get there,” said Leo Martinez, who oversees homeless encampment cleanup for the city Sanitation Bureau. “There is very little resistance and very little interaction.”
Shopping carts are classified as trash and loaded along with mattresses, chairs, tarps and other items left behind.
Drug paraphernalia, crude weapons and wooden pallets could be seen at one recent spot. A piece of plywood at an abandoned South L.A. camp was scrawled with a message: “This just ain’t no tent. It’s my home.”
Crews use rakes and shovels to remove items, being careful to avoid contaminated needles or other hazards, said sanitation Supt. Russell Zamora.
“I always tell my group don’t touch anything with your hands because you may think it’s just a pile of trash, but there may be a needle right in there,” Zamora said.
After collecting any material that appears contaminated for separate disposal, the biowaste team sprays the area with disinfectant.
‘Nowhere to go’
Danny Dancy was sitting glumly on a curb off Slauson Avenue in South L.A. near the encampment where he’d been staying for months. Ten minutes later, a sanitation crew arrived to clear the sidewalk of his belongings — the sixth such cleanup there.
“I imagine they are going to take everything,” Dancy said. “I think the money they spend could be put to a better use. It’s tough because you don’t have nowhere to go.”
But help was around the corner. Homeless outreach workers were on hand to share information about shelters and other services with street dwellers who were frustrated or confused about what to do next.
Jeremiah Diaz, an employee with the homeless outreach organization Hopics, said that as the city has increased the frequency of cleanups, he has noticed that homeless residents seem more willing to accept help. During one cleanup in May on Grand Avenue in South L.A., his group persuaded three campers to move into a shelter.
“It’s kind of a strongarmed way to do it, but we are getting a lot more interest in services,” he said.