Garbage Piles Up Near Homeless Encampments, Making City of Angels a City of Trash

Uncollected trash, especially near homeless encampments remains a big problem, prompting worries about another disease epidemic.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

In the shadow of Los Angeles’ world-famous Hollywood sign sits the newest LA landmark: piles of uncollected, rat-infested garbage, much of it piling up near homeless encampments.

Even though Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged an additional $6 million per year last June to improve trash pick-up around encampments in Hollywood and across the entire city, the problem in some areas appears worse than ever, according to data obtained by the NBC4 I-Team.

Piles of uncollected trash are now a familiar sight on Los Angeles’ freeways, streets, and hillsides. On Gower Avenue near the 101 Freeway where tourists and residents walk by daily, the NBC4 I-Team  documented uncollected trash piling up for weeks outside tents where some 40 homeless people live.

A drone shows the Hollywood sign in the distance as it pans down to homeless encampments in LA in 2020.

”It’s hard for me, but it’s worse for [the homeless], because they’re living in trash,” said Trevor Guyton, who walks by the trash-filled street every day on the way to his nearby apartment.

Some of the homeless people who live at encampments like the one under the 101 Freeway at Gower sweep the area around their tents daily, in an effort to keep their living space clean. But they said the city doesn’t pick up the trash generated by some 40 homeless people nearly enough. The last cleaning of the Gower encampment by LA Sanitation workers was a month ago, and then next cleaning isn’t scheduled for another week from Wednesday. In the meantime, trash continues to pile up.

“It just sits here for weeks until the city picks it up,” said Jennifer, who told the I-Team she’s lived under the 101 Freeway since she arrived in LA from Liberty, Texas, three years ago.

Jennifer said the uncollected trash is a breeding ground for rats.

“All the rats here, they’re in the tents... eating on you, while you’re asleep," she said.

Starting in October 2018, the NBC4 I-Team began documenting the problem of trash piling up uncollected for months on some streets. So in June 2019, Mayor Garcetti promised millions more in tax dollars to hire 47 more sanitation workers to focus on improving garbage collection around homeless encampments.

Business owners and residents in some areas said that extra money has hardly made a difference.

“Putting a few extra boots on the ground makes for a great press event, it doesn’t solve the problem,” said Estela Lopez, who represents business owners around Skid Row. “This city is filthy! Los Angeles is filthy!”

Businesses she represents spend more than a million dollars a year to pick up trash in their area, because city sanitation workers can’t keep up with it. In LA’s Fashion District, private businesses are spending nearly three million dollars a year on workers and the equipment needed to pick up uncollected trash the city leaves behind. 

In the Fashion District, those privately-paid workers are now picking up 14 tons of trash a day, compared to 7 tons a day in 2017.

And in Hollywood, the president of the Business Improvement District, Kristopher Larson, said over the past few years, they have seen an increase in the amount of trash requiring removal from our BID district.

The ongoing problem of uncollected trash, and the rats it attracts, is of huge concern to public health experts. 

“Anyone living in a rat-infested environment is at risk for things like hepatitis A, dysentery. E Coli, typhus,” said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, an infectious disease specialist at UCLA’s School of Public Health.

The infectious disease typhus, which is linked to trash and rats, reached epidemic numbers in LA County in 2018, at 109 cases. 

Through a public records request, the I-Team found the number of typhus cases in LA County in 2019 remained unusually high, with 93 cases. That’s an 85% jump in cases compared to the average 50 yearly cases, during the previous eight years.

Some public health experts worry there could be another typhus epidemic if Los Angeles doesn’t pick up more of the uncollected trash across the city.

“In the worst parts of the developing world, these conditions [in LA] are very similar,” Klausner said.

NBC4 asked Mayor Garcetti’s office if it plans to increase spending again to pick up the tons of uncollected trash that can still be found, especially around encampments. Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar didn’t specifically answer the question. Comisar said any spending  amounts would be part of the mayor’s budget, which will be made public in April.

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