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L.A. takes more heat for spending millions of dollars cleaning up homeless camps

L.A. takes more heat for spending millions of dollars cleaning up homeless camps
Nafeesa Ansar, who has been homeless for more than two years, stands outside her camp with her dog, Monk Monk, on Alvarado Street after a news conference to announce a campaign to shift city money from camp sweeps to homeless services. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

On Wednesday morning, Nafeesa Ansar stood across an offramp from a large and persistent homeless encampment under the Hollywood Freeway overpass at Alvarado Street.

“We get a ticket for just having a shopping cart,” said the 40-year-old, who said she has been homeless in Los Angeles for more than two years. “I get panic attacks and anxiety.”

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Ansar was part of a protest by a coalition of homeless activists and health and housing providers, who called on L.A. to redirect the millions of dollars spent on police-led sanitation sweeps each year toward showers, water fountains, bathrooms, trash collection and regularly scheduled cleanups for people living in the city’s many street camps.

Currently, Ansar and others argued, police and city workers harass homeless people, issuing tickets that can lead to them getting arrested and destroying their belongings without relieving the camps’ fetid conditions. Those who spoke at the protest demanded that the city end the confiscation of homeless people’s property and make the schedules of cleanups public.

Years ago, Los Angeles agreed to let homeless people outdoors overnight, and now 22,000 homeless people live on the streets in the city — by far, the largest number in the country.

Officials spent $31 million on sanitation sweeps last year. The Los Angeles Police Department’s HOPE teams, comprised of officers, homeless outreach workers and sanitation personnel, handles many of them.

Mayor Eric Garcetti’s spokesman, Alex Comisar, said homeless people can retrieve essential property that is collected during a sweep. But the city “cannot store items that are contaminated or soiled.”

The city for years has been embroiled in litigation over the legality of seizing and destroying homeless people’s possessions.

“Our work is about bringing homeless Angelenos indoors, not confiscating their property,” he said in a statement. “We train our outreach workers thoroughly, so that they can provide guidance, and help our homeless neighbors comply with these laws voluntarily.”

Comisar also touted the mayor’s “A Bridge Home” project to open homeless shelters throughout the city. So far, only two have opened.

But Becky Dennison of Venice Community Housing said the mayor’s shelter plan will not end homelessness soon. Stephany Campos with Homeless Health Care Los Angeles called on the city to shift its focus from “criminalization” of homelessness to a more public health-based approach.

Others at Wednesday’s protest included representatives of the Democratic Socialists of America Los Angeles, San Pedro Neighbors for Peace and Justice, Black Lives Matter, the Tenants Union and the National Lawyers Guild.

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