They take careful steps to protect themselves from a dangerous job surrounded by hypodermic needles, human waste and rats. That's the worst-case scenario and they prepare for that every day in Los Angeles neighborhoods.
It's called the HOPE Team – Homeless Outreach Proactive Engagement – and it consists of members of the Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles Sanitation Services and LA Housing Services Administration.
On a Monday morning in the shadow of Universal Studios and luxury apartments in North Hollywood, the team approached to clear out eight illegal homeless encampments near South Weddington Park.
"He claims that he lives on one side and the other side is actually his living room," LAPD Officer Hector Pereida said. He was referencing one encampment that included a four-person tent and a tarp tied to a tree that formed an additional seating area, complete with floor carpeting and chairs.
"He decided he wanted to build his own living room," Pereida said. "He has a little ice chest where he can hang out, the carpet, and everything else to go with it."
Peredia says the man who lives here – Nicholas Coronado – is in violation of LA's City Code 56.11 which states that homeless individuals are only entitled to enough items that fit into a 60-gallon bag and one working bicycle. Coronado had one useable bike and various bicycle parts in his possession.
In addition, Coronado had six shopping carts he used as a border around his "living room," technically illegal because it's stolen property, along with a 5-gallon attempt at home-made alcohol and hypodermic needles.
Coronado wasn’t arrested or cited, though. That's not the purpose of the HOPE Team.
"We do outreach first and foremost," said Valley HOPE Unit Lead Sgt. Jerald Case. "We try to get people into housing."
Of eight encampments that lined one block in North Hollywood, some heard the noise and packed up before the team arrived – others waited their turn to lose their possessions and one woman agreed to getting help and was taken to an emergency shelter in downtown Los Angeles.
For the HOPE Team, which began its work in 2006, that's progress. In its first year they saw more than 1,000 local clean-ups and helped more than 400 people find permanent or temporary housing.
Often times the teams work without the need for a trash truck in tow. More often than not, LAPD says their officers make contact with specific homeless people four or five times – sometimes a dozen – until they're willing to accept help. For some, seeing trash trucks come and crush their belongings into pieces over and over again – it becomes the catalyst they needed to accept the help they're offered.
"Sometimes you know they're upset in the first clean up and then after a couple times they think that maybe there is something to the services that you’re offering," Case said.