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City launches cleanup of downtown tent city on 101 Freeway overpass

Los Angeles city workers dismantle downtown homeless encampment near Olvera Street
Homeless people say the city is trying to shove them out of downtown Los Angeles

Los Angeles sanitation workers Tuesday dismantled a downtown sidewalk encampment near Olvera Street,  sending more than a dozen homeless people scrambling for a place to sleep.

The demolition on Arcadia Street between Spring Street and north Broadway, overlooking the 101 Freeway, launched a weeklong cleanup requested by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health and Councilman Jose Huizar as part of the city's $3.7-million Operation Healthy Streets, a public works spokesman said.

Another cleanup is scheduled for skid row on Aug. 13 as part of the Healthy Streets program. 

Homeless people said the authorities told them they can return Monday. Under a court order, sanitation workers bagged unattended belongings and stored them at a nearby warehouse, tossing only hazardous materials, they said.

Outreach workers from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority directed people to shelters or other services. The agency did not respond to requests for information on how many people they helped.

Several homeless people said the city was trying to squeeze them out of downtown without offering viable alternatives.

They said shade trees have been cut at Fletcher Bowron Square and sprinklers soak the lawn at Father Serra Park, across from Union Station. A year ago, Union Station began requiring transit tickets for people to be able to sit in the lobby, after hundreds of homeless people sought shelter there around the holidays.

Another encampment around the corner from Arcadia Street was taken apart a year ago.

The La Placita church nearby, which serves dinner and allows people to sleep on its grounds, is full and new people arrive daily from skid row and other parts of downtown, they added.

"I think they're unnecessarily traumatizing people," said a homeless woman in her 50s sitting in Father Serra Park. She declined to give her name, saying she didn't want people to know her situation.

"I came here to survive," said Henry Alvin Jeffries, 60, formerly of Pomona, who was keeping watch over carts full of bedding he had salvaged and chained to a fence bordering the freeway overpass.

Jeffries said he lost his job on a hotel plumbing and electrical construction crew five years ago. Sheriff's deputies had been allowing him to sleep under the stairs in back of the Clara Shortridge Foltz criminal court building until 5:30 a.m., but no more, he said.

He'd been offered spaces in shelters on skid row and in Torrance but said they weren't safe.

"Four hundred twenty eight dollars from this country after working all my life," he said of his income from Social Security. "I'm better off here."

Vietnam-era U.S. Army veteran Ruben Gomez, 62, pulled his cart behind him as he rode his bike away from the cleanup. He too rejected placement on skid row.

"That's what they do for veterans, put them in the middle of skid row?" Gomez asked. He said he'd been promised an apartment, but "none of it is true so far."

Gomez said he didn't know where he would sleep; Jeffries said he'd probably be at the church. Jeffries added he could guess where some of his former campmates would be: prowling the streets to steal someone else's bedding to replace what they lost.

Follow @geholland for coverage of homelessness in Los Angeles.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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