City steps up homeless encampment cleanups in Venice amid hepatitis A concerns

By John Seeley

Photo by Ted Soqui

As San Diego grapples with an outbreak of hepatitis A among its homeless community, Los Angeles public sanitation officials appear to be escalating their cleanups of the encampments on Third Avenue, sometimes referred to as Venice’s Skid Row.

During prior cleanups, LAPD officers and city workers have allowed campers to gather and remove their possessions before trash is collected and the pavement is power-washed with bleach.

This time around campers were limited to carrying out what could fit into a 60-gallon container, said several homeless people ordered out of the area this past Friday.

Last year the L.A. City Council adopted an ordinance to codify the seizure of homeless people’s “excess personal property” and even made it a misdemeanor offense if encampment dwellers don’t keep sidewalks clear during daytime hours.

“We were warned about the property removal, but not about the seizure,” said homeless activist David Busch, who was detained during a confrontation with police while arguing on behalf of a woman wanting to recover a bicycle.

On Tuesday, county health officials declared a somewhat preemptive hepatitis A outbreak in Los Angeles based on two local cases and eight linked to the outbreaks in San Diego and Santa Cruz.

Rumors of a MRSA outbreak among Venice homeless back in December ultimately amounted to fake news, but residents who live nearby have become increasingly vocal about the proliferation of trash, debris and potentially disease-spreading human waste throughout the area.

Busch made headlines in March with a weeks-long hunger strike calling for the installation of two safety-monitored portable toilets on Third in order to improve sanitation conditions. That hasn’t happened.

Neighborhood activists have also fought city plans to retrofit the former Westminster Senior Center, about a mile away, for securely storing homeless people’s belongings in 60-gallon containers.

That means homeless people who want to recover seized property have to go to a facility downtown, a trip that involves a nearly two-hour bus ride and a .75-mile walk.

A homeless woman who identified herself as Charlene from Tennessee said she was away from the encampment when the cleanup happened and lost clothes, blankets, hygiene supplies and her birth certificate. Whether they ended up in the landfill or the impound lot may not matter: “I don’t have a way to get down there,” she said.