LOS ANGELES - The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to develop a more voluntary, service-based approach to replace the city's mandatory cleanups of homeless encampments.
The motion authored by Nithya Raman and Mike Bonin calls for the Bureau of Sanitation, in consultation with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, to develop standards for street engagement and hygiene services "with a preference for voluntary compliance whenever possible."
The enhanced hygiene and sanitation services would:
- occur on a regular schedule;
- offer services including trash and bulky item pick-ups;
- create designated areas for trash and waste to be placed for disposal and removal;
- use community partners and ambassadors for outreach and facilitation;
- provide easy-ups or shade structures to help unhoused people temporarily relocate with their belongings during cleanups;
- provide mobile showers, bathrooms, COVID-19 testing, COVID-19 vaccinations, tent exchange and distribution, and food and water;
- hire unhoused Angelenos to keep areas tidy between cleanings;
- provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities; and do not involve law enforcement personnel.
Council members voted unanimously to approve the motion, but Councilman Joe Buscaino was the sole dissenter to an amendment to:
- have the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority consult with the Bureau of Sanitation on standards for street engagement and hygiene services; and
- to instruct the City Administrative Officer and the Chief Legislative Analyst to develop a budget and staffing proposal to implement new standards for street engagement and hygiene and to work with LAHSA to develop a budget and staffing proposal for outreach to prepare unhoused residents for the Bureau of Sanitation's cleanings in advance and during the cleanings.
Raman and Bonin said in the motion that Los Angeles policy should be guided by the Hippocratic oath, "first, do not harm."
They contrasted Los Angeles' policy to conduct forced cleanups, during which unhoused residents must take down their tents and move their belongings, to the CDC's guidelines, which state: "If individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are. Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread."
Raman and Bonin said the city should institute a voluntary program that offers cleanup services and the removal of trash and hazardous waste without threats of confiscation, as advocated by the Services Not Sweeps Coalition. They noted that type of program was piloted in Council District 11.
Through that pilot, L.A. Sanitation and Environment workers provide voluntary service during a regular schedule, similar to how sanitation services are provided to residential customers, according to the motion.
Raman said the pilot program proves that there doesn't have to be a conflict between Angelenos' desire for clean streets and the rights of unhoused people.
"When our unhoused neighbors are given the same sanitation services as our housed ones, and engaged with collaboratively, we can build a system that benefits all Angelenos," she said in a statement to City News Service after introducing the motion on Jan. 12. "I am proud to co-present a motion that takes this philosophy citywide."
The motion's authors noted that their highest priority is to provide a suitable housing alternative to sidewalk, but in the meantime and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they first want mandatory cleanups to stop.
"In the middle of a deadly pandemic, we need to take every necessary step to protect public health. That means giving unhoused people a safe place to stay -- and refraining from displacing them when we fail to provide them a place to stay," Bonin said in January.
"The city keeps trying to clean encampments through a program that forces people out of their tents and confiscates their belongings," he said."Instead, the city should humanely provide a voluntary sanitation program that offers a service, just as we do to housed people."
Several Los Angeles neighborhood councils voiced support for the motion, including the councils of Atwater Village, Arroyo Seco, Del Rey, Eagle Rock, East Hollywood, Echo Park, Empowerment Congress West Area, Greater Cypress Park, Greater Valley Glen, Hollywood Hills West, NoHo and Mid-City. The Los Feliz Neighborhood Council said it would support the motion if the cleanups were mandatory, not voluntary.