LA Sanitation Says More Money Needed to Fix Cleanup Requests Backlog

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - With the requests for cleanups of homeless camps  having skyrocketed and the city backlogged on the jobs by the thousands, the city's Bureau of Sanitation said it needs more money for the work in a report that was presented to a Los Angeles City Council committee today.

The number of cleanup requests for homeless encampments and illegal dumping sites nearly tripled between April 2016 and end of 2017, according to the report, and the city finished the year backlogged by 3,884 out of the 19,884 requests it received.

The report noted that the number of requests does not accurately reflect the number of homeless encampments, as the city receives an average of six requests per site.

``I want to commend your folks for the work that you do and that you do on a daily basis and acknowledge to you that we're asking you to do a job that there really isn't a good way to do,'' Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson told members of the Bureau of Sanitation who presented the report to the Homelessness and Poverty Committee.

``There isn't a good way to take stuff from people who are down on their luck, but we have charged you with that task.''

The requests went from an average of 700 per month to 1,900 from April 2016 and end of 2017, according to the report, and was driven by the rise in homeless population, but also by the city's successful outreach efforts encouraging the public to report homeless encampments along with an increased use of the city's MyLA311 mobile app.

The committee approved the report, which includes a request that Bureau of Sanitation representatives work with other city departments to develop a proposal for an increased budget for homeless encampment and illegal dumping cleanup for the next fiscal year, although there was no specific dollar amount requested in the report.

Homelessness in Los Angeles jumped by 20 percent in 2017 while the county saw an increase of 23 percent compared to the previous year, according to the results of the 2017 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count. In the city, the total number of homeless went up to 34,189 and the county number increased to 57,794.

Cleaning up homeless encampments sometimes involves confiscating people's property, which has proved to be a divisive issue in Los Angeles and led to some opposition of the practice.

``The idea of further funding an inhuman, inhumane, ineffective program is appalling. We should not criminalize human suffering,'' Ryan Kelly, who said he is an organizer with the Democratic Socialists of America, told the committee.

Others who spoke at the meeting praised the cleanup efforts as a vital way for the city to combat homelessness.

``LA Sanitation has become invaluable to the success of our business community,'' said Rena Leddy, executive director of the Fashion District Business Improvement District.

She added, ``We fully support any additional resources that you will be bringing to LA San and we absolutely support resources for housing, and I think we can do both.''

According the report, homeless encampment cleanups are done through four different programs under the umbrella of the Bureau of Sanitation's Livability and Environmental Quality Program, including Operation Healthy Streets - Skid Row and Operation Healthy Streets - Venice, which are dedicated to cleanups in those specific areas.

The other two programs are Clean Streets LA, and the Homeless Outreach and Proactive Engagement, or HOPE, teams, which consist of teams made up of police officers, sanitation workers and outreach workers.

Clean Streets LA added a fifth team at the beginning of this year and the HOPE program added two more teams to make a total of six, but it will not be enough to do the work required, according to the report, which recommended the Bureau of Sanitation work with other city staff to propose a budget increase for the upcoming 2018-19 fiscal year LEQP staff and resources.

The Bureau of Sanitation's budget for the LEQP and related work has a budget of $13.7 million this fiscal year, which is up from $12.7 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

Elena Stern, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, told City News Service the request for the 2018-19 fiscal year will be for 10 more LEQP teams, including five Clean Streets LA and three more HOPE crews, although she would not say what the dollar amount of the request would be.

The report also recommends that the Personnel Department to prioritize background checks on environmental compliance inspectors who work on the HOPE teams on par with other public safety workers. The city currently has 22 open positions for the roles and there is a high turnover at the position, according to the report.

The committee was told that the background checks can take up to a year, and the committee added an amendment to the report asking the Personnel Department to report to it within 30 days on options for speeding up the background checks.

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