DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES – City officials are launching a major street and sidewalk cleaning program in Skid Row this morning. The sweeps, a response to ongoing public health concerns in the poverty-stricken neighborhood, are slated to continue daily for up to three weeks.
The plan, spearheaded by the office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, has been in the works since the County Health Department cited the city on March 21 for health code violations tied to human waste, hypodermic needles and other hazardous materials found in the area, said Villaraigosa spokesman Peter Sanders.
Officials with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority canvassed Skid Row today, alerting people living on the streets about the impending cleanup, LAHSA spokesman Peter Griffith said. Along with the planned cleanings, officials have turned a city-owned property at 432 E. Temple St. into a storage facility where crews will take bulky items seized during the sweeps.
“We’re coming out Tuesday morning with the Bureau of Sanitation, Bureau of Street Services and public health experts and we’re going to identify those items which are clearly public health issues as referenced in the county report,” said Patrick Butler, assistant chief with the Los Angeles Fire Department and acting spokesman for what the city has dubbed Operation Healthy Streets.
On Tuesday morning, crews will target Gladys Avenue between Fifth and Seventh streets, and then tackle one-to-two block segments every day until the entire neighborhood has been pressure-washed, treated with disinfectant solutions and ridden of contaminants — from vermin dens to clothing piles that could be harboring disease, Butler said.
The plan is long overdue in the eyes of Skid Row-area social service providers, businesses and property owners who have been complaining about public health concerns long before county officials formally documented them.
“I don’t think any one of us can say we’re satisfied until we see what the results are, but I can say that we’re delighted at the response from the mayor’s office,” said Estela Lopez, executive director of the Central City East Association, which represents area property owners.
Conditions have deteriorated in Skid Row since June 2011, when U.S. District Court Judge Philip Gutierrez issued a temporary injunction barring the city from seizing and destroying apparently abandoned items from area sidewalks. The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed on behalf of homeless individuals who, after going inside to access social services, returned to find that personal belongings left on the sidewalk had been seized and destroyed by a city cleaning crew.
While the injunction allows the city to remove items posing health or safety risks, authorities have operated carefully in the wake of the injunction. Some critics of the city’s response, including the homeless advocacy group the Los Angeles Community Action Network, which helped orchestrate the lawsuit that prompted the injunction, say authorities have neglected their obligation to maintain public health standards.
City officials had defended their unwillingness to remove bulky items and sidewalk pile-ups partly on grounds that they had nowhere to store the items. The injunction mandates that all seized items (except those that pose health or safety risks) be stored for 90 days.
Now, the city has a storage solution. The warehouse at 432 E. Temple St. will hold all bulky items left on sidewalks during the planned cleanings, Sanders said. Downtown-based nonprofit Chrysalis will operate the facility.
The city also plans to reimburse the Central City East Association for costs associated with doubling the capacity of its voluntary storage warehouse on Seventh Street, Lopez said. Homeless individuals have stored personal belongings there for years, but until now, the facility has operated at capacity, Lopez said. Additional funds, which will come from LAHSA, will help pay for the personnel needed to staff the expanded warehouse, she said.
The Department of Public Works has hired a hazardous materials expert to accompany city crews during the daily cleanings. The consultant will identify items that pose public health concerns so they can be trashed, Butler said. All other belongings will go to the Temple Street warehouse, where they will be held for 90 days.
The LAHSA outreach team is informing people living on the streets about the warehouse and directing them to the CCEA’s facility. Printed notifications about the cleaning plan and the storage options were seen posted on light poles in the area today. The LAHSA team will also attempt to steer people to homeless services.
City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has appealed the Gutierrez injunction. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to rule on the matter. A decision is expected this summer.
Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at firstname.lastname@example.org.