Clean-Up Planned in Neighborhood with Growing Homeless Population

Cleanup is planned Wednesday morning for Manchester Square, an area increasingly dotted with homeless encampments as it transitions from residential neighborhood to its envisioned role in modernizing access to Los Angeles International Airport.

During the past decade, scores of apartment buildings and single family homes have been purchased and razed by Los Angeles World Airports as it seeks to acquire all of the lots inside a roughly quarter of a square mile of Westchester between LAX and the 405 Freeway. Manchester Square is bounded by Century Boulevard to the south, Arbor Vitae Street to the north, La Cienga Boulevard to the east, and Aviation Boulevard to the west.

The increasingly empty streets became a destination for homeless with vehicles for auto camping, and in the past two years, tent camps have increased on the sidewalks.

Many of those still occupying the remaining residences have complained to city officials of trash pileup and other problems they blame on the encampments.

"Now we can't even take walks. They have the whole sidewalk blocked," said resident Dennis Morgan. 

"Basically, they have taken over," his wife Jena Morgan said.

They expressed doubt the cleanup would have much lasting impact. To the homeless, it is another inconvenience to be endured.

"If I didn't love camping, I don't know that I'd be able to tolerate this," said Joe Sigler, who has been living in a tent since summer.

Under rules that have emerged from a series of court decisions on homeless camping, campers are allowed to set up on public sidewalks after 9 p.m., and are supposed to pack up at 6 a.m., though the  tents generally remain where pitched in Manchester Square.

"I live this way because I can't live any other way," said Dana Tritch, who has a tent near Sigler's. "Nobody's giving us a break."

From 2015 to 2016, the homeless population in LA county increased 5.7 percent to 46,874, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

In the past three months, the city and service organizations increased outreach efforts to find shelter for the Manchester square homeless, said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

It's not known how many have been placed, but several of the homeless said they are still waiting after being contacted. Others, including Trich and Sigler, said they do not want to give up their pet dogs if placement requires that.

Tuesday afternoon, two Airport Police officers assigned to Manchester Square delivered the news to one homeless woman that her housing expense voucher had been authorized. But she remained pessimistic suitable housing would be found. 

Though the Los Angeles municipal code does not permit car camping on residential streets, it is often not enforced, unless there are specific parking restrictions. Some, but not all of Manchester Square streets have signs posted that read no parking between 2 and 6 a.m.

Westside city councilman Mike Bonin has pushed for amending the code to permit car camping in commercial and industrial areas. Bonin has also called for creating "safe parking" for homeless to car camp in areas such as church parking lots. Mayor Garcetti sees that as a possible temporary measure, but not a long term solution.

Last November, Los Angeles voters approved Measure HHH, authorizing the city to issue bonds to raise up to $1.2 billion to build homeless housing.

Garcetti said congestion at LAX over the holidays was another indicator of the need to proceed with the airports Landside Access Modernization Program, dubbed "LAMP." The plan foresees using Manchester Square as the location for a consolidated rent-a-car facility, "Conrac" for short.

The mayor expects ground-breaking for Conrac to begin by the middle of next year. Those in the remaining houses and apartments in Manchester Square realize they likely will have to move in the next few months.

With the changes in her neighborhood in recent years, airline employee Rosie Pecina has mixed feelings.

"You want to get away," Pecina said. "But you want to stay because it's convenient and affordable."

Half a century ago, at the dawn of the jet age, LAX was confronted with increasing complaints about noise from residents in an ocean view community of Playa del Rey on the sand dunes beneath the airport's take-off pattern. The city dealt with it by buying up the properties in short order, and fencing off the area as a permanent no-man's land. The houses are gone, but the grid of empty streets can still be seen from Vista del mar.

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