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Skid row sweep finds many homeless with medical, psychiatric needs

Skid row sweep finds many homeless with medical, psychiatric needs
A skid row cleanup effort launched in August found more than 100 people who needed immediate medical and psychiatric attention. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A joint city-county sweep of skid row last month to provide sanitation and social services identified more than 100 homeless people in need of immediate medical and mental health care, officials said Wednesday.

Eighty homeless people received medical attention for scabies, wounds and other conditions during the August operation and 27 were referred to mental health services, City Councilman Jose Huizar said in a statement.

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Officials housed 42 people in shelters or at hotels on emergency vouchers, and referred 10 others to interim or veteran housing. Six people were approved for permanent housing and four were admitted to detox or rehabilitation centers.

Sanitation workers removed 3.5 tons of waste, 184 syringes and needles, 63 razor blades and eight knives. They also cleaned up feces and urine at hundreds of locations, and delivered 13 bags of personal belongings to 90-day storage centers.

The initiative grew out of Operation Healthy Streets, a $3.7-million program launched by the city to address county public health citations in the 50-block area.

An estimated 3,500 homeless individuals live on skid row, including 1,500 who sleep in the sidewalk encampments that rise each evening. It's considered one of the largest homeless enclaves in the nation, Huizar said, concentrated in a one-square-mile section of the increasingly glitzy downtown revival.

The cleanup and outreach marked a shift from the police enforcement focus of earlier skid row improvement efforts, and featured a rare show of city-county collaboration.  City and county agencies involved in the initiative include the Los Angeles Police Department, the county Departments of Mental Health, Health Services, Public Health and Public Social Services, the L.A. city attorney's office, Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the city Department of Public Works.

Huizar and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas headed up the effort. A lack of coordination between their overlapping jurisdictions has been blamed in the past for failed skid row improvement projects.

"These are small steps forward, but they are important ones," Huizar said in a statement. "Realizing the magnitude of the problem and committing to work together is the first step."

The intensive cleanup and outreach program, which will be supplemented by spot cleanings, will be repeated every other month. The next event is scheduled for Oct. 8-17, Huizar said.

Follow @geholland for homelessness and skid row news.

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