By Steven Guzman, Editorial Intern
More than two dozen organizations came together at a press conference at Lomita Boulevard and McCoy Street in front of the Stillman Sawyer Family Service Center in Harbor City demanding Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti change the city’s tactics regarding street cleaning and sanitation services at homeless encampments.
The April 6 press conference was organized by 26 organizations under a campaign named “Services Not Sweeps,” where a list of demands was presented as well as resources provided to a homeless encampment in the area.
Organizations behind Services Not Sweeps say that the city of Los Angeles has begun escalating its efforts into cleaning and sanitizing homeless encampments by increasing its law enforcement presence around encampments instead of providing services through a health-based approach.
“Right now the policy is criminalizing. The stories of the encampment residents are that [of] daily sweeps, police guards stationed there, warrants, and tickets for jaywalking,” said Chris Venn, a member of San Pedro Neighbors for Peace and Justice, one of the organizations behind this coalition.
These actions are happening after a growing concern over the city’s tactics to support a law passed by LA City Council to “clean up” homeless populations resulted in a 2016 federal injunction where the city was found by a U.S District Court to be illegally seizing the property of homeless people in downtown LA’s Skid Row.
The now-amended law, Municipal Code 56.11, was originally revised to state that in order to “balance the needs of the residents and public at large to access clean and sanitary public areas” the city could, “without prior notice,” impound, “temporarily move personal property, whether attended or unattended,” or “discard any bulky item” if said property was found to be “obstructing city operations in a public area.”
While the Municipal Code was amended after the injunction, and as a response to the city’s continued actions, Services not Sweeps has listed demands directed at Garcetti and the City Council. These demands include removing all law enforcement personnel from street cleaning teams, the retraction of ordinances “used to criminalize homelessness during street cleaning,” the identification of “a voluntary secure space for people to leave their belongings” during street cleanups, as well as including, in the 2019 city budget, plans and funding to improve public health infrastructure beyond street cleaning.
During the press conference, Services Not Sweeps provided resources to the neighboring homeless encampment ranging from access to showers and toilets, a clean needle exchange, emergency cleaning supplies as well as other things members of the encampment community were thought to might need. However, according to Venn, “[while] providing these services was real, it was largely symbolic,” and that community members believe they “do not have the resources that the city of L.A. should provide.”
The mayor’s office and Councilman Joe Buscaino have not responded to these demands