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Health dangers from feces, needles on skid row are cited

As night falls, a dazed woman with a gangrenous thumb spreads a blanket over a row of plastic crates to make a bed on a urine-soaked sidewalk on skid row.

Feces, urine and hypodermic needles found on skid row violate the state health code and pose a danger to public health, according to a violation notice sent to the city of Los Angeles. The county ordered the city to clean up the debris from the streets and sidewalks. 

The report, issued late last month, came after the city requested a public health inspection. City officials said they have since cleaned up the feces and needles cited in the violation notice.

The city has been fighting a court injunction that has limited controversial sweeps to dismantle sidewalk encampments, and officials wanted the report to show the health dangers posed by trash piling up on skid row.

“From the city’s point of view, we have a public health crisis developing on skid row,” Special Assistant City Atty. Jane Usher said. "There are such vast quantities of materials deposited on the streets and sidewalks."

The injunction has restricted police from seizing personal property from skid row dwellers. The city appealed and the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing the case.

Homeless advocates said police officers were overly aggressive in taking property from the homeless when they stepped away to receive services. But the city said the cleanup was necessary.

There is nothing in the injunction that prevents the city from cleaning up needles and feces, said Becky Dennison of Los Angeles Community Action Network, which supports the injunction. "The city should respond with thorough street cleaning and trash collection that respects people’s personal property," she said.

News of the county findings were first reported in the Downtown News.


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Photo: As night falls, a dazed woman with a gangrenous thumb spreads a blanket over a row of plastic crates to make a bed on a urine-soaked sidewalk on skid row. Credit: Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times

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