Two LA City Council members motion to replace encampment cleanups

Two Los Angeles City Council members introduced a motion to replace the city's current mandatory encampment cleanup system with a voluntary one.

The motion was filed by Nithya Raman from District 4 and Mike Bonin from District 11.

RELATED: Skid Row homeless community sees first major surge in COVID-19 cases

The motion would offer services including trash and bulk item pick-ups, create designated areas for trash and waste to be placed for disposal and removal, provide easy-ups or shade structures to help homeless people temporarily relocate during cleanups, provide mobile showers, bathrooms, and hire homeless people to keep areas tidy between cleanings. It would also not involve law enforcement during the cleanups.

"Here in Los Angeles, we have an absolutely broken system about how we try to maintain our streets and sidewalks and how we try to keep encampments clean until we can house everybody. Me and a couple of my colleagues have proposed different, and we think a smarter and better way of doing things.

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"Instead of rolling down the street and creating conflict and controversy and seizing people's belongings and forcing them out of their tents, which is strongly against public health guidelines, particularly in the era of COVID, we're proposing a voluntary system where just like you and I or anybody who's housed, a sanitation truck comes down the street and they pick up what you want them to pick up," said Bonin.

Bonin said they've started a pilot project in the 11th district with the voluntary cleaning model.

"We started piloting in our district the past couple of months and it's really starting to work. It's not a matter of stopping cleanups. It's about doing them differently and doing them better," he said.

When asked about homeless people who might be seen as medically unfit determining whether or not to participate in what would be a voluntary program, Bonin said it's not an issue.

"That has not been a tremendous problem so far. What we have found is after trust has been built up, when people see that you're not coming to seize their belongings and we've had people who have had their medicine taken, their documents taken, we've had someone who died because of their heart medication was taken. When they see that you're coming to provide a service, people are more cooperative, and over time we have built up a cooperative relationship," said Bonin.

Bonin said they've had an "over 90 percent level of cooperation."

"I would like us to replace the current system which confiscates belongings and throws people out of their tents and takes their tents with a system that is actually cooperative," he said.

It's a controversial motion especially after a fire in Venice that started at a homeless encampment and engulfed a commercial building.  

"The surest way to make sure that we don't have fires at homeless encampments is to make sure we don't have homeless encampments and the surest way to make sure we don't have homeless encampments is to make sure we have housing and we need to stop having conversations about how do we try to magically make or legislate encampments away and how do we get people more quickly into housing which is why I'm a big advocate of purchasing, leasing even if we have to seize vacant hotels and moving people in the way the CDC says we should. I think we need my motion to go through to make sure the fires don't take place, right now we have a broken system that isn't cleaning up the encampments," he said.

Reverend Andy Bales, the CEO of Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row, said he believes the mandatory cleanings are important.

"Especially with COVID amidst the filth, we cannot leave the filth on the streets and people living in it and leave it up to their discretion, they are just trying to survive and they need all the assistance possible," said Bales.

Bales has been a victim of unclean streets while advocating for unhoused people.

"I lost my leg four years ago to staff and E.coli and flesh-eating disease and that's the danger we're leaving people in when we hesitate to clean up. I know Mike Bonin, and I know his heart and he was crying out for more shelter beds rather than slow to develop very expensive housing but you do need to make it inviting and try every way you can to offer the help but in the end, it's very important that we get in and clean up as best as possible," said Bales.

Bonin also believes police should not be involved in the cleanup process. Bales believes they should be in the area.

"The police could be stationed a couple of blocks away and not even make an appearance but ready in case there's an event that comes up like the one who killed the Pasadena outreach worker," said Bales.

Mark Ryavec, the President of Venice Stakeholders Association and a member of Venice Neighborhood Council, believes the motion is problematic. Ryavec also ran against Bonin in the past.

"The voluntary nature of it will mean that quite a few of our sidewalk campers will not accept service and these encampments will continue to grow and the human waste, food waste, rats, the diseases, just will all continue to accumulate," he said.

He mentioned the surge in COVID-19 cases the homeless population is currently seeing and does not believe mandatory cleanings will cause any harm.  

"These folks [people living in encampments] are not sheltering in place. You come out to Venice and you'll see they're all partying together. They're all moving around. They're not wearing masks. It's not as though doing an involuntary cleanup where they have to strike their camp, and move out is going to have any appreciable effect on the virus spread," he said.

Ryavec mentioned the recent Venice fire as well.

"Folks are lighting fires to keep warm and for whatever reason, they're getting out of control and it is just a matter of time before one of those fires takes down not an empty office building but takes down an apartment building. We're very lucky that no one has died yet from a fire that got out of control," he said.

Ryavec does believe it's logical to schedule the mandatory cleanups but does not believe they should be voluntary.

"Many of them [homeless] are really trying to make the best of a bad situation and are not problematic but there are some bad actors and there are some clearly mentally ill people and folks that are clearly drugged a good bit of the day. Because he [Bonin] keeps relaxing restrictions, and adding services, they [homeless] just keep coming," he said.

Ryavec said residents want Bonin to solve the homeless encampment concern like he did for the encampment on Rose Avenue, offering homeless people vouchers for places to stay.

"They [residents] want him to do the exact same thing along the Venice Boardwalk. What Bonin did on Rose for the 100 campers over there was a tremendous relief to the residents there and that's what residents here and business people who are constantly having homeless people come and steal from them and threaten them and steal their bikes and vandalize their facilities, want him to do and I don't understand why that would be so difficult because he already knows how to do it. He's already done it once and certainly, we are not looking for more services. We are not looking for this to become a permanent campground in America," Ryavec said.

The motion is in the hands of a city council committee.

However, a Superior Court Judge ruled Monday to deny a request from a homeless advocate group to temporarily halt the mandatory cleanups.