Commencing in 2015, headlines of the Los Angeles Times proclaimed that LA tops the nation when it comes to the population of chronically homeless men, women, and children. According to data that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development initially released that year, Los Angeles city and county not only has the most chronically homeless people than any place else in the United States, but two-thirds of these people are also on the street. About one-third of homeless people in LA utilize shelters or other transitional or emergency housing alternatives.
When these reports about Los Angeles started coming out in 2015, this proved to be a major disappointment to HUD. The agency previously had opined that it would eliminate chronic homelessness in the United States by that juncture in time. In 2015, HUD extended its deadline to eliminate chronic homelessness to 2017. The agency missed that goal as well.
Since these reports began coming out, another trend has taken hold in LA – the explosion of homeless encampments. According to the leader of the Union Rescue Mission, the largest shelter in Los Angeles, homeless encampments are no longer located in economically depressed areas of the city and county only. Homeless encampments are springing up everywhere, including in the middle class as well as more affluent neighborhoods throughout greater LA.
Some individuals involved in the debate what should be done to address chronic homelessness in Los Angeles maintain that a state of emergency should be declared. People taking this position include the chief executive officer of the Union Rescue Mission. He goes so far to state that the response to chronic homelessness should pattern what is done in the aftermath of a major hurricane. The current Mayor of LA is not on board with declaring a state of emergency in regard to chronic homelessness in the city.
Definition of a Homeless Encampment
A distinction must be drawn between a homeless person, or homeless family, living on the street and a homeless encampment. A homeless encampment is defined as a gathering of more than one homeless person or family, a group that constructs what oftentimes is called a “tent city.” The reality is that actual tents are not that commonly present in a homeless encampment. Rather, makeshift “tents” and lean-tos are the order of the day. A homeless encampment can consist of a few people to over a hundred.
The Impact of Homeless Encampments on Neighborhoods
While no compassionate person wishes ill upon homeless people, the reality is that not all strategies utilized by homeless people (and their advocates) to meet their basic needs are of equal benefit. The reality is that homeless encampments overall are proving to be detrimental, and even dangerous, to homeless men, women, and children. People who end up in these encampments face disease, criminality, and unsatisfactory shelter.
The negative impact that arises from homeless encampments extends to the broader community as well. The presence of a homeless encampment exposes all people to harmful things like disease and criminality. The manner in which these encampments are places oftentimes also negatively impact the operation of businesses and the ability of people to even go about their day in their own neighborhoods.
Another reality associated with homeless encampments is that they are not permanent by design. Of course, on some level, people who reside or own businesses near a homeless encampment do take some comfort in the fact that it will not exist forever. On the other hand, when a homeless encampment ultimately is uprooted as a result of a decision by its occupants, as opposed to the city cleaning up the area, the aftermath can be profoundly disturbing, troubling, and even dangerous.
When a homeless encampment uproots, residents and businesses in the neighborhood cannot necessarily rely on a Los Angeles city or county public works crew to proceed apace to remediate the aftermath. The task of undertaking a homeless encampment cleanup indeed may rest in the laps of neighboring businesses and homeowners.
The City’s Response to Homeless Encampments
In recent years, the number of people “car camping” (living in their vehicles) and gravitating to homeless encampments has increased an incredible 85 percent. The city attempted to respond to the seemingly unrestrained growth of homeless encampments by enacting ordinances which gave the city more authority to address homeless encampments.
Initially, the proposals on the table before the City Council were designed to give the city authority to confiscate and even destroy property found in a homeless encampment. The objective was to prevent people from comprising a homeless encampment from easily regrouping.
In the end, less strident ordinances went into effect which permits the city to take more limited steps in regard to homeless encampments. These less strident ordinances largely grew out of settlements between the city and advocates for the homeless community.
At this time, the focus of addressing homeless encampments is on health and safety issues. The city is not able to confiscate the property of homeless people in encampments, as was originally discussed. In addition, the city must notify people in homeless encampments that the city intends to undertake a cleanup. The people in an encampment are required to be given time to remove their valuables before a public works crew comes through to undertake a homeless encampment cleanup. Specifically, the city posts signs at a homeless encampment announcing that cleanup will occur within 72 hours.
In the three years since these ordinances have gone into effect, Los Angeles public works crews have been active in cleaning up, but not eliminating, homeless encampments. As of the latter part of 2017, the following data was reported by the city regarding homeless encampment cleanup undertaken by the city through its public works crews:
- 16,500 homeless encampments have been cleaned up
- 3.000 tons of trash has been eliminated in the process
- Between 2015 and the middle of 2017, the rate of city public works homeless encampment cleanup increased seven-fold
An important note: When the city started its more concerted initiative regarding homeless encampment cleanup, some of these sites had not been cleaned for years. They fairly could be classified as major health and safety nuisances. When the city initiated its cleanup efforts, public works crews spent the bulk of their time trying to address homeless encampment waste that accumulated over the course of years.
During the same time period, there has been approximately a 20 percent increase in the number of people living on the streets of Los Angeles, a considerable portion of these people coming together in homeless encampments.
Since 2015, voters in Los Angeles approved a $1.2 billion bond initiative designed to speed up construction of housing for homeless individuals. This vote underscores that people in the city are willing to aid and assist the homeless population. Voters are not willing to sacrifice safety and health by permitting the unbridled and unattended placement of homeless encampments, however.
Biohazards at a Homeless Encampment
A myriad of different types of biohazardous materials are found at homeless encampments and are left behind when a homeless encampment uproots. These include biohazardous materials that can contain dangerous pathogens that can threaten the health of individuals exposed to these bacteria and viruses.
Although the City of Los Angeles has taken steps to place portable restrooms at the site of larger homeless encampments, at this time a majority of these encampments do not have this equipment readily at hand. As a result, at the site of a homeless encampment, human waste in the form of feces and urine commonly is found.
Biohazards at a homeless encampment are not confined to this type of human waste. Approximately one-third of all homeless people have pets, primarily dogs and a lesser number of cats. Waste from these animals is also found at homeless encampments.
Another grim feature of homeless encampments in some cases is the presence of animal carcasses. When a pet dies in an encampment, the remains oftentimes are not properly disposed of at the time of death.
One of the reasons why encampments are not considered as positive ways of addressing the needs of the homeless population, even by a good many homeless advocates, stems from the use of intoxicants in these encampments. The types of mind-altering substances widely utilized include:
- Rock cocaine
- Power cocaine
Some of these mind-altering substances are taken via injection, specifically rock cocaine, heroin, and meth. In many instances, these illicit drugs are taken by injection. Despite broad advisements, time and again people in homeless encampments share needles when taking these drugs. Moreover, these individuals share needles. Ultimately, with alarming frequency, individuals in homeless encampments come nowhere close to properly disposing of needles. They tend to throw them on the ground.
The Essentials of Homeless Encampment Cleanup
If you are a homeowner or business owner near the site of a homeless encampment, the need for cleaning it up may exist. You may have found yourself in the position of needing to take action to clean up a homeless encampment, perhaps together with others in your neighborhood. This is the present reality for you because those in the encampment have uprooted themselves and departed.
If you’ve viewed the homeless encampment more closely, your immediate response may be despair. If that is the case, you are far from alone in having that reaction – and it is perfectly understandable. Considering the prospect of a homeless encampment cleanup can be overwhelming.
The fact is that you likely do not have the desire to take on a homeless encampment cleanup on your own. You really should not consider undertaking such a challenging endeavor on your own. There are a number of reasons why you don’t have the background necessary to effectively and safely pursue a homeless encampment cleanup:
- You lack proper training
- You do not have appropriate safety gear
- You lack access to the chemicals necessary to eliminate pathogens that likely exist at the site
As a consequence, you and your neighbors are best served to seek the assistance of a qualified, experienced homeless encampment cleanup service.
Personal Protective Equipment and Homeless Encampment Cleanup
The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has established a list of personal protective gear that needs to be utilized to provide proper protection when biohazard cleanup, or biohazard remediation, is being pursued. This gear includes:
- Mask or respirator
- Smock, apron, or uniform
The Four Stages of Biohazardous Remediation at a Homeless Encampment
As mentioned previously, biohazardous material will be present at a homeless encampment. The cleanup of this material technically is known as biohazard remediation. There are three essential stages to comprehensive remediation of a homeless encampment:
The first phase of remediating the damage and dangers associated with a homeless encampment is cleanup. This includes the appropriate elimination of physical items that are likely strewn about the encampment site. Care must be taken to identify physical items that may be contaminated with things like blood, bodily fluids, or other biological materials. If a physical item is contaminated in this way, it must be destroyed by using the standards established by the California Health Department and other agencies.
It is during this phase that blood, bodily fluids, human and animal waste, and other biological materials are addressed. These need to be placed into proper biohazardous waste containers and transported by a licensed entity for destruction.
A professional homeless encampment cleanup professional utilizes medical grade chemicals to sanitize an area in which biohazardous materials were removed. This step is necessary to ensure that people are not exposed to these dangerous pathogens going forward.
The ultimate objective of the comprehensive biohazard remediation of a homeless encampment is to restore the area to a safe, usable condition. Even once this process is completed, you need to appreciate that, as of this time in Los Angeles, there is little to prevent the return of a homeless encampment. That remains an entirely different issue that is still being debated among stakeholders with different concerns and positions about homeless encampments.