CARE pilot program looks to tackle issues of health and hygiene
By Kai McNamee
In response to rising concerns over public health, Los Angeles City Council has announced a new strategy to tackle issues of health and hygiene within homeless encampments.
Since the beginning of July, the new fiscal year, the City’s budget has seen an increase in spending to combat issues of homelessness — part of that funding will go towards deploying neighborhood-based Comprehensive Cleaning and Rapid Engagement (CARE) teams. Councilmember Mike Bonin has motioned to launch a CARE pilot program in Council District 11.
With the beginning of the 2019-2020 fiscal year, Los Angeles has increased its budget for alleviating issues associated with homelessness by $28 million. The 2019-2020 budget, which took effect July 1, 2019, will allocate roughly $457 million for fighting homelessness, up from the previous year’s total of $429 million. CARE teams, according to the office of Mayor Eric Garcetti, will “use data-driven tools to provide public health services to encampments, identify areas of highest need and ensure that the hardest-hit areas receive regularly scheduled cleanups and hygiene services.”
The program aims to build relationships between CARE teams and homeless communities to connect homeless individuals with city services.
“Our new CARE teams will help improve public health and strengthen the public good by providing a services-led approach,” Mayor Garcetti said. “We want to do more to connect homeless Angelenos with the resources they need and bring added energy to the work of keeping our neighborhoods clean.” The program also aims to deploy mobile hygiene stations equipped with showers and restrooms.
Councilmember Bonin supports the CARE initiative but wrote the program “does not go far enough, fast enough.” In June, Bonin wrote that only one hygiene station would be ready for deployment by October 2019.
To date, street cleaning and sanitation protocol have relied solely on a case-by-case, complaint-based model. Councilmember Bonin has denounced the system for being ineffective, calling the City’s cleaning protocols “a program virtually no one is satisfied with.” Encampments like those under the I-405 underpass at Venice Boulevard have been regularly cleaned by the Bureau of Sanitation — last year, city teams conducted 500 street clean ups and removed over 1,300 tons of waste. Previous cleanings have produced no measurable successes in improving public health, Bonin said.
Activists from the Services Not Sweeps coalition have similarly called on the City to improve its cleaning strategy. Becky Dennison, a member of the coalition and President of Venice Community Housing, said the CARE program isn’t enough to fix the city’s approach to street cleaning.
“The Services Not Sweeps coalition does not support the new CARE program, primarily because of the continued use of police and criminalization in what should be health-focused street and sidewalk cleaning and services,” Dennison wrote in an email, adding that the program doesn’t completely eliminate the complaint-based approach to street cleaning.
Bonin’s motion to launch a CARE pilot comes after he accused neighboring cities of pushing homeless people into LA last month.
“It is maddening to hear reports from unhoused neighbors about how they are forbidden by police in neighboring cities from sleeping on sidewalks and are directed to Los Angeles sidewalks,” Bonin said. “Homelessness is not a problem that can be solved by pushing people into another neighborhood. We need to be on the same page as our neighbors and working collaboratively and collectively toward sustainable solutions to this urgent crisis.”
Bonin, along with Councilmember Joe Buscaino, is currently looking into ways LA can take legal action against neighboring cities like Culver City. In the 2018 Martin v. City of Boisedecision, the 9th Circuit of Appeals ruled cities cannot implement public camping bans if they do not provide adequate housing alternatives, such as shelters.
Multiple news outlets have reported Culver City police officers encouraging homeless people to move to LA sidewalks. Culver City Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells has expressed concern over such reports but maintains that the city does not prohibit public camping.