LA officials struggle with possessions of Skid Row homeless

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The sidewalk of Skid Row is public property with thousands of homeless people setting up camp in this Downtown area. Everything from toasters to typewriters is piled high on the sidewalks, as the homeless have nowhere else to store their goods and possessions.

In one such area, these goods are overlooked by a woman who calls herself Mercedes Benz. Benz guards her and her neighbors' personal belongings, but they're being stored in a public place, which creates a conflict between the homeless and a city trying to bring order where chaos reigns.

Since a federal judge ordered the city four months ago to stop seizing property from Skid Row streets, sidewalks already teeming with people are now crammed with stuff.

BlogDowntown reports that the crowded Downtown sidewalks may also pose health risks.

"It is a public health hazard," said Councilwoman Jan Perry who represents the area most affected by the ruling. "If we cannot reach some understanding with the court about having the ability to get people's personal articles off the sidewalk for a certain period of time so that we can sanitize the sidewalk, people are going to get sick."

Health concerns aren't unfounded. In 2006, similar conditions helped to spread MRSA, a strain of staph infection resistant to treatment, among those living on the streets of Skid Row.

The items that clutter the streets might indeed be discarded junk, but to the nation's densest concentration of homeless they're someone's worldly items and they have nowhere else to put them.

Courts have repeatedly found that property of homeless people cannot be wantonly seized simply because it's on the street.

The Los Angeles Times reports that between 1989 and 2005, there were three lawsuits filed against L.A. regarding the rights of homeless. As a result, police must now give sufficient notice if they plan on taking a homeless person's possessions. The city is also required to pay damages if the items are dumped sooner than regulations allow.

KPCC's Eric Richardson contributed to this story
The Associated Press contributed to this story

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