The City of Pomona, California is no stranger to homeless encampments. The city’s Homeless Encampment Action Response Team, also known as HEART, frequently responds to reports of illegal encampments that not only cause major disruption in the community but have also actually been a danger to the community. 

Earlier this year, the team responded to reports of an encampment located along the 2800 block of Pomona Boulevard next to the 57 freeway. One of the biggest issues that people had with this particular encampment was that it was extremely unsanitary, and people were engaging in unsafe activities like barbecuing with open flames on nearby hill. The encampment was eventually found near a storm drain on property belonging to CalTrans that was next to the Spadra Cemetery. What made people really uncomfortable was that the same area had caught fire the year before. With the heightened fire risks in the area, people were right to be concerned that this and other risky behavior by the encampment residents were making homeless encampments a danger to the community at large. Once the encampment was cleared of residents, the city of Pomona made plans to better secure the area and keep it clean.

Homelessness isn’t going away. In California, it only seems to be getting worse. While many people empathize with the plight of homelessness, unregulated homeless encampments are not the answer. They put too many people at risk. Once a homeless encampment has been cleared, the area has to be cleaned so that it’s once again safe for the community. 

This is where we come in. We have years of experience restoring former homeless encampment sites to their original condition so that the spaces can once again be safely enjoyed by everyone in the community.

What are some of the biggest risks posed by homeless encampments?

Homeless encampments are dangerous for several reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is because they’re completely unsanitary. When someone lives in a homeless encampment, they have no access to running water or places to wash their hands, take showers and baths, or wash their clothes. They have nowhere to use the toilet. Women find it difficult to obtain and properly dispose of sanitary napkins, tampons, and other feminine hygiene products. This creates a situation where the encampment is left with tons of biohazardous waste.

At homeless encampments, you find biohazardous waste in human feces, drug paraphernalia, animal feces, blood, garbage, and many other substances and items. The reason that biohazardous waste is so dangerous is because it contains pathogens. Pathogens are microorganisms like viruses and bacteria that cause diseases in their hosts. The spread of pathogens is what causes diseases to spread from person to person. When you have a homeless encampment where there’s no place to practice proper hygiene, disease runs rampant. This is the reason that the number of cases of diseases like hepatitis A and tetanus increased dramatically in the homeless population in California in the past few years.

Unfortunately, a good number of homeless encampments residents also struggle with drug addictions. Many of them use drug paraphernalia that they can’t or don’t dispose of properly. This is why when you walk through an encampment, you see things like syringes and dirty needles scattered through the site. The likelihood of being infected with disease from one of those items if they prick you is extremely high. This can happen to someone simply walking through the space and accidentally stepping on a needle or picking it up because they don’t realize what it is.

Another reason that homeless encampments are so dangerous is because people bring all sorts of dangerous items into the encampment. They bring in items like candles and portable butane gas stoves in order to cook for themselves. This greatly increases the chance of the site catching fire, a huge possibility in these times.

How do homeless encampment cleaners clean up encampments?

Once an encampment has been cleared out, the cleaners will come in and get rid of any debris that remains. The debris will be separated out into sections. Debris contaminated with biohazardous or other types of infectious waste will be packed away into special biohazard bins that are built to seal in the contents so that they don’t infect anyone or anything else. The other debris can be piled into dumpsters. 

The next step will be to wash down the entire site. The cleaners and disinfectants that the cleaning team will use have been approved by OSHA to remove and destroy pathogens. This step of the cleaning process is really critical because it’s the only way that the area can become safe for use once again.

Once cleaning has been done, the biohazardous waste will be taken to a special waste facility where it will be permanently destroyed, usually by incineration.

Does the city pay for homeless encampment cleanup?

The city is only responsible for homeless encampment cleanup if the homeless encampment was located on city property. If the encampment was located on property belonging to a business, the business has to pay. If the homeless encampment was located on private, residential property, the owners of that property need to pay. If you are responsible for the costs related to cleaning up a homeless encampment, speak to your insurance company first. Some or all of those costs may be covered.

Homelessness isn’t going away anytime soon. You may feel hopeless when dealing with how to deal with a site that was recently the location of a homeless encampment. The good news is when you work with a professional homeless encampment cleaning company trained in the removal of biohazardous waste, you’ll know that the job will get done properly and your property will be restored. Most importantly, people will be safe.