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Los Angeles launches cleanup effort on skid row

June 19, 2012 |  4:16 pm

A city worker sprays down a skid row corner
The Los Angeles Department of Public Works, backed by police and firefighters, on Tuesday launched a major cleanup effort in downtown’s skid row to address urine, feces, discarded needles and other health dangers cited in a recent county report.

The operation, requested by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, is expected to last up to three weeks and is focused on the area between 5th and 7th streets and Gladys Avenue and Wall Street.

Notices were posted Monday on neighborhood walls, and officials with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority have been canvassing the area to ask people who sleep on the sidewalks to move their belongings during the cleanup, said Michelle Vargas, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.

When city crews arrived on Gladys Avenue at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, a handful of people remained. They were given 20 minutes to move their bags and shopping carts before the area was cordoned off and sanitation workers in protective suits and gloves began moving through.

A woman in a wheelchair, who asked to be identified by her first name, Patricia, scrambled to drag a plastic crate filled with blankets and clothes out of the way.

“Why not do it every week?” she asked. “They do it up top every week … on Main, Los Angeles and Broadway. There’s a big difference between their streets and our streets.”

City officials say they were hampered by a federal court injunction issued last year that placed limits on the removal of unattended items, but the dangers cited in the public health report required action. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health inspected a nine-block area and discovered human waste, hypodermic needles, condoms and a rat infestation in violation of county and state health codes.

Activists with  Los Angeles Community Action Network and  Los Angeles Catholic Worker, who have long clashed with the city over tactics used to clean up skid row, say the court order does not prevent city employees from removing items that have been abandoned, that present a health or safety risk, or are evidence of a crime or contraband.

They accuse the city of deliberately allowing conditions to deteriorate to bolster its case against the injunction -- a charge rejected by city officials.

“We are actually quite pleased that streets are being cleaned, but we remain concerned about personal property being taken and destroyed in the process,” said Pete White, co-director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network.

Vargas said uncontaminated items recovered during the cleanup will be stored at a warehouse at 432 E. Temple Street, where they can be claimed for up to 90 days. For those who need it, she said, temporary storage is available at the Central City East Check-In Center, a facility operated by one of the neighborhood business improvement districts.


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Photo: A homeless woman, who asked to be identified only as Patricia, watches from her wheelchair near the corner of Sixth Street and Gladys Avenue in L.A.'s skid row as a city employee uses a pressure washer to clean the street on June 19, 2012. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times