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Massive Skid Row cleanup begins in response to health code violations

By Emily Chu and Hayley Fox
Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2012, at 03:08PM

Skid Row will undergo an extensive clean-up over the coming weeks, in response to health code violations cited by the L.A. County Department of Health.

A massive, multi-week cleanup of Skid Row began Tuesday in response to a long list of health code violations cited by the L.A. County Department of Health.

"The cleanup itself should probably take two to three weeks," said Peter Sanders, senior press secretary for Mayor Villaraigosa. "And once the cleaning to address the health violations is over, there’s a plan to hopefully maintain the streets and keep the streets clean.

The violations include the presence of hypodermic needles, rats' nests, piles of human excrement and other conditions that create an overall unhygienic environment.

The cleanup project is spearheaded by the mayor's office and includes partners such as the L.A. Fire Department and the Central City East Association (CCEA), which oversees the Business Improvement District (BID) that encompasses portions of Skid Row.

Estela Lopez, the executive director of CCEA, says the undertaking is "intensive" and will include cleaning all the streets and sidewalks in the area. She said that although the health report came out recently, the hazardous conditions of Skid Row were "something we've all known for months."

Lopez was on Skid Row Tuesday morning and said the sight was "unbelievable." She added that there were a "slew" of city crews coming through to wash down the streets with disinfectant, clean out storm drains and haul away trash.

"Short term, we have to clean up the street and make it safe," said Pat Butler, the assistant chief of LAFD and the spokesman for Operation Healthy Streets. "I saw 50 hypodermic needles and the trucks were filled with feces and urine. But if you look at the street now, it looks beautiful."

Many of the area's homeless moved their personal belongings off the streets before the cleaning crews came, said Lopez. Anything left behind was disposed of, and all items that looked like personal property were temporarily relocated to a storage facility in Little Tokyo.

Lopez's organization has run this property check-in center for a decade and were operating at "full capacity" with 700 bins, when the mayor's office asked them to add more bins in preparation for the Skid Row overhaul. Now, the site has over 1100 containers for use by the city's homeless.

Keeping Skid Row clean has been an ongoing struggle as no one governing body is responsible for maintaining it. The Downtown police patrol the area and the L.A. Department of Street Services intermittently clean the streets, but the problematic sidewalks go largely unaddressed -- besides through the help of the Industrial BID and volunteer groups such as Operation Face-Lift/Skid Row, that pick up trash and plant trees.

But Butler says the future may be different -- and that that the current cleanup includes plans for future maintenance as well.

"Operationally, this is a three-phase approach to cleaning the streets," he said.

The first phase is outreach; letting Skid Row residents know the city's plans for the area, Butler said. The second phase is the physical cleaning of the streets and the third is the ongoing maintenance, he added, which includes a continued police presence to discourage "sidewalk homes" that can lead to unhealthy living conditions.

"We’re not here to push people away," Butler said. "We’re just here to clean the place."

Capt. Horace Frank of the LAPD attributes much of the disintegrating conditions in the area to an ordinance passed by the city last year, which bans the confiscation and destruction of property from Skid Row's homeless.

"We're regressing," Frank told Blogdowntown earlier this year. "The environment allows it."

Frank also said that since the ban went into effect, property crimes have shot up in the area. The growing piles of possessions can conceal people who are sick or even dead, and help conceal illegal activity like drug use.

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