Los Angeles

Homeless Encampment Cleanups: Are Millions of Tax Dollars Being Wasted?

In a seemingly endless cycle that costs tens of millions of dollars per year, LA's homeless encampments are cleared out for cleaning, then repopulated

Nearly 15,000 homeless encampment cleanups were conducted last year in Los Angeles, a process that begins with officers clearing people from the area before sanitation workers remove trash and other items.

The cleanups cost taxpayers millions of dollars, but some residents who live near the encampments said they are usually repopulated soon after sanitation crews are done. It's a seemingly endless cycle that leads neighbors to ask whether there are better ways to spend that tax money.

Millions of taxpayer dollars are spent on homeless encampment cleanups. Is it worth it? Joel Grover reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Monday May 13, 2019.

A stretch of sidewalk tucked under the 405 Freeway in the shadow of the West Los Angeles skyline illustrates the reasons behind their frustration. At least once per week, the 40 people who call the area home are ordered out by police so city sanitation crews can get to work.

It takes hours to remove used needles, bottles of urine and piles of garbage, then powerwash the sidewalk. 

But just minutes after the crews leave, the homeless encampment is re-populated and the sidewalk is once again littered with the hazardous byproducts of life on the streets. 


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"You’re wasting time, money, effort," said Dylan, who lives in the homeless encampment near the 405 Freeway and Venice Boulevard.

Neighbors agree.

"It’s not a good use of our tax dollars," said resident Roman Samiley.

When officers clear the encampment, the homeless individuals just mover farther into his neighborhood to wait out the cleanup, Samiley said. During the brief relocation, they leave behind garbage that is never picked up. 

And, it gets worse.

The images of human suffering are all over Los Angeles County. Joel Grover reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Monday May 13, 2019.

Some people walk from the encampment to urinate and defecate on residential streets. If the human waste is outside the yellow tape sanitation workers use to mark off their cleanup boundary, it's also left behind.

"It just pushes the trash into our streets," Samiley said. "Our streets are worse after these clean ups. If you come back the day afterwards, after a major cleaning, it looks the same or worse." 

Pepe Garcia, of the Los Angeles Department Of Sanitation, said the goal is to provide healthier conditions for people living on the streets and residents who live nearby. But that's not happening, according to residents near the West LA encampment and sites in the San Fernando Valley, Echo Park and Hollywood.

The I-Team obtained and analyzed records of all homeless encampment cleanups and found the city conducted nearly 15,000 of them in 2018. That costs taxpayers $31 million per year, just to pay the sanitation workers. Add another $4.7 million to pay for Los Angeles police officers assigned to protect sanitation crews.

No one at City Hall could tell NBC4 the cost of LA Department of Transportation officers used to control traffic around the encampments or the cost of outreach workers who hand out snacks.

"There's an absolute better way that the city could be spending all this money," said Becky Dennison, of Venice Community Housing.

Dennison and infectious disease doctor Jeffrey Klausner of UCLA have visited the 405 Freeway encampment. They said conditions there are a breeding ground for disease and taxpayer dollars could be better spent to place portable toilets at every large homeless encampment.

The city has added portable toilets at just 12 of LA's hundreds of homeless encampments.

"Going to the restroom was just a basic human need, and it does create a health crisis to not have a bathroom," Dennison said.

They also said more trash cans also would help. At the 405 Freeway site, there are two cans that are often overflowing with garbage.

Sanitation department officials told NBC4 that they will retrain workers, instructing them to clean up trash and human waste in neighborhoods around encampments and not just near the tents. They also said they're considering placing more trash cans at the locations.

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