Health

LA's homeless: Skid Row's epic clean-up by the numbers

Workers clear garbage from San Julian Street in Skid Row as part of the Operation Healthy Streets program. The City of L.A.’s Bureau of Sanitation will remove three tons of trash from the streets, a spokesperson said.
Workers clear garbage from San Julian Street in Skid Row as part of the Operation Healthy Streets program. The City of L.A.’s Bureau of Sanitation will remove three tons of trash from the streets, a spokesperson said.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Workers clear garbage from San Julian Street in Skid Row as part of the Operation Healthy Streets program. The City of L.A.’s Bureau of Sanitation will remove three tons of trash from the streets, a spokesperson said.
Mark Meeker, left, and Gabriel Jimenez help George Phillippi, center, get into a social services program for veterans. Phillippi is a Vietnam veteran who found himself on Skid Row after traveling to Los Angeles to find his daughter and grandchildren.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC
Workers clear garbage from San Julian Street in Skid Row as part of the Operation Healthy Streets program. The City of L.A.’s Bureau of Sanitation will remove three tons of trash from the streets, a spokesperson said.
A used hypodermic needle lays in the street as pigeons forage for popcorn in the Skid Row area in Downtown Los Angeles. Operation Healthy Streets is working to clean up hazardous waste from the streets and try to get people into social services programs.
Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC


Authorities have released numbers on the weeklong clean-up effort in Skid Row from last month. This year, the Los Angeles City Council devoted an extra $2.2 million to the effort, spearheaded by District 14 Councilman Jose Huizar. The funds helped pay for a massive outreach campaign that included city and county health and housing service providers and sanitation workers. 

For the week of Aug. 11, approximately two dozen outreach workers canvassed the area each day before and during the clean-up, along with around 35 city sanitation workers, Huizar spokesman Rick Coca told KPCC. 

Each shift was broken into multi-agency teams of three to four that fanned out to different areas, approaching those on the street to offer housing, food, medical care or hygienic items like socks and soap, depending on their needs and what they could qualify for. 

August's clean-up was the first major thrust of the yearlong "Healthy Streets" initiative.

The approach followed criticism of earlier clean-up efforts in 2012 and 2013. Homeless advocates and community members complained of being harassed and having their personal belongings thrown away with the trash.

“Given this type of collaboration between the City and County hasn’t been done before, our expectations were really about just making sure we worked together to directly engage the homeless community in the streets where they live,” Huizar said in a statement. “I couldn’t be more pleased with these results because they represent a start and tell us this is a viable path that we need to continue on."

The results

# Skid Row clean-up by the numbers*
39 People placed in emergency housing
3 People received hotel vouchers
4 People placed in interim housing
6 People placed in veteran housing
6 People approved for permanent housing
80 Medical interventions performed
27 People referred to mental health services
72 People provided with basic provisions (water, socks, etc.)
69 People received bus tokens
26 People received DMV discount voucher
3.5 Tons of waste removed
11 Cubic yards of wastewater removed
184 Syringes/needles removed
63 Razor blades removed
107 Locations cleaned of feces
169 Locations cleaned of urine
13 Bags of personal items stored

* Information provided by the office of 14th District Councilman Jose Huizar

L.A. County Department of Public Health outreach worker Mark Meeker was out on the streets for the two weeks, as part of their veterans outreach program, VALOR. 

"We engaged with 30-plus vets and I would say at least a third of them have come into our programs," he said. "We're stepping up the pace now. We're going to start doing this every other month"  

Meeker said the multiagency team has been working to improve communication, overlapping their evening and afternoon outreach shifts so they can better hand off information to one another on who needs help where. 

"We're not just going to wait for the street-cleaning to do this," he said.

Some were less optimistic about the effort's initial results. At the L.A. Community Action Network (LACAN), organizer Adam Rice said he hasn't yet seen the results the effort promised. 

"It's great that maybe some people got into an SRO program and maybe they'll be able to get off the streets on a permanent basis," said Rice. "But to be honest, that's not even a drop in the bucket." 

Rice said the $3.7 million allocated for the clean-up would likely have had a bigger impact had it been used to develop more permanent housing for the homeless, rather than providing triage to the estimated 1,020 living on Skid Row's streets.

"We see the same old game being played out on Skid Row that we consistently see," Rice said. "Instead of a true attempt to end poverty, a true attempt to get people off the streets and help them move to a better place in life, a true attempt to find real help for people with mental disabilities, what we see is more feeding of the machine."

Christine Marge, director of United Way's Home For Good initiative, said the effort was "a good start," adding that the metrics may not entirely reflect the program's true value. 

"I think it's important to look at this holistically," Marge said. "We absolutely need permanent supportive housing and that should be the number one priority ... But there are other pieces of that puzzle. We do need strong outreach teams, that can talk to folks on the street. We need housing navigators to help people navigate the system. ... and ultimately we do need sanitation teams to ensure that the conditions that people are living in while they're still on the streets are as healthy and safe as possible." 

Marge said the systems and cross-jurisdictional coordination coming out of the Healthy Streets initiative are likely to continue bearing fruit for Skid Row residents. 

"In an initiative like this, our hope is that they are able to create a strong partnership on the ground," she said.