Homeless people across Los Angeles are illegally using fire hydrants as a source of water to bathe, shave, even fill water balloons, leaving the hydrants damaged and often useless to firefighters during the critical fire season, an NBC4 I-Team investigation finds.
The I-Team's findings come more than a month after LA Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the LA Fire Department to immediately find and fix all damaged hydrants near "high density homeless encampments." NBC4 found the city has failed to do that.
The mayors order was in response to a July I-Team report that first documented how people living on the streets, desperate for water especially in the hot summer, were hijacking hydrants, often in the downtown and Skid Row areas.
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That's the same area where numerous fires at homeless encampments have been erupting, threatening the safety of the homeless as well as residents and workers in nearby buildings.
"Fire hydrants are a necessity in fighting fires," says Chief Sam DiGiovanna, who trains firefighters from across the LA area. "You need to have these hydrants working and operable, 24/7," DiGiovanna told NBC4.
The I-Team found that sometimes, as soon as the LADWP replaces a damaged hydrant, homeless people immediately disable it to siphon off water. Last week, the DWP replaced a damaged hydrant at 5th and Crocker Streets. Within three hours, people living on the sidewalk nearby had tapped into it to fill buckets with water to drink and bathe.
The I-Team also documented numerous other hydrants that haven't been identified or fixed recently, which are being used to fill water jugs, to wash clothes, and to bathe in.
Homeless advocates say if the city is going to allow thousands of homeless people to live on the streets, then it should provide them with sources of clean water, so they don't have to use hydrants.
"We have a mobile shower program in LA, and it's just very very small and visits very few places," says homeless advocate Becky Dennison, head of Venice Community Housing.
"I think the city just isn't interested in truly addressing the conditions of folks living on the streets," Dennison told NBC4.
Firefighters say the city needs to find a better way to prevent those living on the streets from constantly damaging hydrants--a critical firefighting tool.
NBC4 asked Mayor Eric Garcetti's office what they plan to do to protect critical fire hydrants from getting damaged over and over. Garcetti spokesman Alex Comisar told NBC4 "we are exploring various options to more quickly identify and repair any damaged hydrants, including by installing cameras and through other technological solutions."
The I-Team plans to keep watching, to see if the Mayor keeps this promise.