Caltrans workers file grievance against dangers of clearing homeless encampments

Image 1 of 6

Caltrans got notice and formal grievance from its highway maintenance workers that they are sick, tired and disgusted with homeless camp clean up.

Caltrans finds itself between a rock and a hard place; between the homeless and its employees.          

Cleaning up homeless camps is often dangerous for the crews tasked with doing the work. Often the ground is a muddy, slippery, debris ridden stew of things that are exceedingly sharp or dangerous to touch, such as potentially toxic or biologically unsafe materials.

"Feces and urine and feminine products and all kinds of things on the ground; needles, syringes, you know they use buckets, five-gallon buckets for toilets and it gets really disgusting," said 
Caltrans union executive, Steve Crouch. And, that is to say nothing of the open hostility that often comes from those from those being evicted.

"Sometime they have pit bulls in there, They'll, you know, let the dogs loose to chase the Caltrans workers out. Sometimes they'll throw rocks at the Caltrans workers," said Crouch. Add to that: live electrical lines and even the occasional weapon.

That's why the Caltrans maintenance workers union, the International Union of Operating Engineers, filed an official grievance.

Caltrans issued this statement today; "Safety is a top priority for Caltrans and we will carefully review the grievance."  

"Their job is to maintain the highways and freeways, you know, that's filling the potholes, that's doing the striping of the lines, that's doing the guardrails alone the edge, that's trimming the trees and shrubs and bushes along the highway. Their job is not to clean up homeless encampments," said Crouch.

Clearly, the Caltrans workers have a point about their own safety. But, we can clean up and clean out as many homeless camps as we want, but, that's not getting to the root cause of things that cause homelessness.

"Caltrans, the City of Oakland, the mayor; they need to get together like they're doing little projects, little houses and stuff," said Oakland homeless man Melvin Sanford. Until then, Sanford, on the street for four years now says, practically speaking, some dumpsters placed at camps would be used. "They will. They'll put the garbage in there and wait for Caltrans to come pick them up or the city to pick them up," he said.

These days, the typical clean up takes two or three days. Caltrans says, in the last five years, it's spent $30 million to clean up homeless camps, $10 million last year alone: money that should have gone to road maintenance.