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Sweeps Are Not Services: What LA’s Newest Proposal For Homeless Cleanups Gets Dangerously Wrong

The city again chooses to fund policing rather than the services the unhoused need to survive.

As organizations such as LA CAN, Venice Community Housing and DSA have come together to form the Services Not Sweeps coalition, the rhetoric around the way in which homeless sweeps are done has changed in City Hall. Elected officials have started to talk about new models for handling sanitation around the city’s current homelessness crisis that involve less police involvement, and less persecution of the unhoused. However, if the model put forth by LA Sanitation that is going before the full city council on Friday is implemented, it will largely represent a perpetuation of a broken status quo, and another failure by Los Angeles’ leaders to approach this crisis with a sense of what is actually needed to improve conditions.

This plan involves a new allocation of resources towards encampment clean ups. Rather than devoting the bulk of those resources to services such as showers and outreach workers, the bulk goes to paying overtime for workers who will be placed into CARE and CARE+ teams that will respond using the same complain based model that has been decried by the unhoused and activists alike. “There are many concerns with this plan that has a new name, but features many of the same fundamental issues we are against,” said DSA LA organizer Jed Parriott, “criminalization, surveillance, the continued seizure of personal belongings, and a budget that allocates 6 million dollars for 47 new sanitation employees — yet they have to figure out how to allocate $150,000 to fund a crucial homeless hiring program?”

Further, while what the full composition of these CARE and CARE+ teams are is not made clear on paper, it is now apparent that they will continue to bring a significant police presence into homeless encampments. That much was made explicit at a city council committee meeting on Tuesday, where the LAPD said they would roll out a CARE team deployment plan in the near future. Further, reading between the lines of the document it is obvious that these policies are more of the same. Existing HOPE teams in the document are described as being “reclassified” as CARE teams. That suggests this is a rebranding, not a rethink of the city’s rampant criminalization of the unhoused.

As if this were not bad enough, the plan calls for the installation of a network of security cameras. These are supposedly to deter those who dump goods illegally, but would largely serve to bolster the LAPD’s apparatus of surveillance. Rather than dedicating resources to help keep encampments of the unhoused sanitary, this plan devotes most of the money allocated to an already bloated LAPD budget.

None of this serves to decriminalize the unhoused in Los Angeles, nor does it serve a public health need. These policies presume that just because a person is unhoused, they are a danger to those around them. That is both untrue based on statistics on violent crime rates, and denies the unhoused the due process to which they are entitled. This business as usual approach to enforcement is a cruel extension of the city’s long-standing heavy-handed policies, masquerading as something more benign.

As pernicious as the policies themselves is the constant reference to the sweeps themselves as “services.” The document being considered refers to “increased levels of servicing” as faster response times by those doing the sweeps. Sweeps are not services. Showers are services. Outreach provides services. Services are meant to humanize the unhoused, not dehumanize this already vulnerable population.

This Trump-like appropriation of language reveals the priorities of Los Angeles’ decision makers: they care more about defanging those who criticize them then actually improving the city they are elected to lead. This was clear when Mayor Garcetti took shots at organizers in the Services Not Sweeps coalition as slowing down the city’s response to homelessness. People demanding that the city provide the unhoused with services rather than destroying their possessions are not slowing down the production of supportive housing. But that fundamental truth does not matter to the thin-skinned leaders of this city. These same decision makers who have allowed the city’s housing affordability crisis to mushroom into a human rights catastrophe expect to be praised for enabling the deadliest police force in the nation to trample the constitutional rights of the city’s most vulnerable population? The think they can perpetuate these systems of oppression because no one is paying attention?

Fortunately, people are paying attention. Organizations like LA CAN have been monitoring these actions for decades, and they are buttressed by newer organizations such as KTown For All and DSA-LA. Thus when the city attempted to couch a perpetuation of persecution in the language of the oppressed, the people who have been aware of this oppression for years were not fooled. That said, the city is acting quickly to force this non-change through. This plan is currently scheduled to go before the full council. Reach out to your councilmember to demand that this plan be amended to remove the unneeded police presence from these outreach teams, and to reallocate resources towards services rather than the perpetuation of a broken status quo.

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