The city forced one of its most vulnerable populations to disperse without any guidance.
On a crisp Friday afternoon in Long Beach, public works officials swept and destroyed encampments occupied by unhoused community members. The City posted notices at sites on E 3rd St and Linden Ave, E 7th St and Atlantic Ave, and E 7th St and Linden Ave.
The City’s action is in complete defiance of official CDC COVID-19 guidelines, which advise local officials to “allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.” Clearing away unhoused people’s shelter increases the potential for infectious disease spread, notable, no doubt, at a time when COVID-19 is at an all-time high. The guidelines also conclude that clearing encampments causes unhoused individuals to break connections with service providers. The City of Long Beach seems to have precisely done just that.
City Officials targeted locations that connect unhoused residents to essential services, vital organizations, and advocacy. At 3rd and Linden, there is Christian Outreach in Action, which provides hot meals every day of the week to those in need. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, a vocal sanctuary parish, is on the corner of 7th and Atlantic. And on 7th and Linden, both Families Uniting Families (a charity organization focused on vulnerable children) and the Long Beach Immigrants Rights Coalition are established.
The City’s destructive actions come after governing bodies issued conflicting stay-at-home orders in LA County, the City of Long Beach, and the State of California. After spending $100 million and providing shelter for 4,300 of the County’s 66,000+ unhoused, LA County is set to end Project Roomkey early next year. CDC guidelines make it explicitly clear that local officials must ensure the availability of individual housing options before clearing encampments. Yet, there are no individual housing options in Long Beach, and the City spurned official CDC guidelines, creating more disruption and confusion for the unhoused community.
On Thursday afternoon, Christina was subject to that very disruption and confusion. Public Works officials showed up to the spot on Linden where Christina was staying, unhoused, and they were ready to clear everything away. Christina knew that she had until Friday to pack her things and go. After a lot of insistence, the city workers acknowledged their mistake but made it clear that they would be back tomorrow.
By Friday morning, Christina had packed up all of her things and left the spot where she was staying. It was a disrupting episode, but something she’s sadly grown used to. “People I don’t even know scream out their windows at me,” Christina said, “My bikes get stolen often. Nobody should have to put up with it, let alone a woman. Some people have children out here.”
As the day reached its end, a pile of things Christina couldn’t take with her remained there into the night. City workers never came to clear away the area on Friday, as the notice promised. All of the stress the City put Christina through and her eventual displacement was all for nothing. The City didn’t even bother to clean the area.
Private property owners contracted Block by Block, a “non-profit organization operating on behalf of the tenants and commercial property owners of the Business Improvement District,” to clear what remained of the encampment. Block by Block did so at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, December 12.
When asked for an explanation as to why the city was committing such a violating act, a representative from Mayor Garcia’s office could only muster up a feeble “I don’t know” and promised a more detailed response via email. As of publication, the writer has yet to receive such an email. City Council Member Jeanine Pierce’s office, whose district represents the location Christina was staying at, was not able to be reached after multiple attempts
Whatever convoluted statements the City Officials come up with will arrive too late, anyway. The damage is done, people’s shelters have been destroyed, and the city has forced those most vulnerable to disperse throughout the community without any guidance. Most definitely, no account of the situation is more clear than Christina’s: “It’s totally against everyone’s human rights. I was born in this country and feel less than human. The shit I have to put up with out here is really sick.”