Homeless living in RVs may get a mobile sewer service

Bicyclists ride the Arroyo Seco trail on Tuesday morning, May 5, 2015 where several encampments line the riverbed.
Bicyclists ride the Arroyo Seco trail on Tuesday morning, May 5, 2015 where several encampments line the riverbed.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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A proposed mobile sewer service for homeless living in their RV's will get its first test Wednesday before the Los Angeles City Council's Homelessness and Poverty Committee.

The proposal, authored by Council Member Bob Blumenfield, calls for the city to examine operating a truck that would service some RV's inhabited by homeless people, as well as drain RV's that have been tagged for towing. The proposal needs committee approval before advancing to the full city council. 

"When people are on hard times and they're facing homelessness, their vehicle may not even work to get them to an appropriate place to dump their human waste," Blumenfield said. 

In some cases, that waste is ending up on city streets — of particular concern, in the context of a recent Hepatitis A outbreak among homeless people in San Diego.

Tow companies tasked with hauling away abandoned RV's and illegally parked RV's are also encountering trouble with leaking sewage, he said. Tow yards, for a while, stopped picking up RV's for the city, but resumed after L.A. increased the value of their contracts.

That's not the only financial drain caused by excrement. 

"It costs us a lot of money to deal with human excrement on our streets," Blumenfield said. "If someone calls it in, at minimum, it's several hundred dollars. But if there's been a dump from an RV on a street, that could be thousands of dollars."

A mobile draining system, he said, could very well save the city money. Under Blumenfield's proposal, the city would research specific options, limiting sewage services to homeless individuals who have agreed to work with homeless service providers to find long-term housing.

The proposal's received a mixed reception in Blumenfield's district in the West San Fernando Valley, an area, residents say, that has seen recent growth in people living in RV's. 

"There's a lot of green here," said longtime resident Anne Weaver, referring to the city's vehicle dwelling code, which as of this year, points homeless people living in their cars to industrial areas to park. 

"Yesterday, I put in ten requests to 311 alone," she said. "It's just overwhelming."

Some RV residents are respectful, clean, and quiet, she said, while others leave a trail of trash, excrement, and belongings. 

"They're allowed to park, but this is different," she said. "There's caravans of five lined up, putting up tarps, barbecuing in the streets." 

As for a sewage draining program, Weaver said she's not sold.

"Why? Why? Why?," she said. "That's just encouraging them to live on the streets."

Others, however, are behind the proposal, including the West Hills Neighborhood Council, which submitted a letter of support to the City Council.

"Hopefully, it'll get more people into services," said Simone Best, a member of the neighborhood council. 

Residents in West Hills have grown increasingly weary of encampments and RV's, she said, and the council is looking for real ways to address their concerns.

"We want to make sure people are obeying the laws, but also we need to protect the rights of homeless," she said. "We need to follow the rules, and they do, too."