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“There are no sweeps” — the new line from Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office

Tired of trying to justify the city’s inhumane sweeps of unhoused residents, Mitch O’Farrell’s office focuses on proper word choice.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell posing with officers of the Los Angeles Police Department

On Thursday morning I called the office of LA City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell to share my opinion on the inhumane sweeps of unhoused people that take place all across the city every day. In the past two years I’ve monitored at least a dozen of these sweeps on the Venice boardwalk, and I can confirm that they’re absolutely brutal.

How it usually goes is cops show up, guns and batons strapped to their waists, and surround these poor people who are just trying to survive in this hellish city. Sanitation workers proceed to throw out everything the person can’t fit into a 60-gallon trash bag in the next 15 minutes. Other belongings might be taken to a storage unit downtown, but good luck ever getting that stuff back.

Or, sometimes, the cops don’t even give unhoused residents the luxury of being able to keep some of their property. This is what happened with two particularly aggressive sweeps in Echo Park this past week, coincidentally occurring just before the public concert Echo Park Rising, happening this weekend.

Street Watch LA called them “the worst sweeps [we’ve witnessed] in two years of monitoring.” Here’s a good video they made of what happened.

Here’s how it was described by SELAH, a local all-volunteer group that does regular outreach to homeless encampments in that part of town:

Residents reported being misled by city workers, given 15 minutes to pack up their belongings and move them to a specified location for “safe-keeping.” Once the belongings were moved, they were unceremoniously discarded by city workers.

One resident lost his heart medication. Another lost her anti-seizure medication. A third lost the identification card she needs to get her monthly General Relief check. Others lost tents, bedding and other critical necessities, forcing them to sleep on the bare ground with no cover in areas populated by rats and other pests. One disabled resident suffering from chronic pain begged us to call an ambulance so he could have a comfortable surface to rest on, saying “I just can’t do this anymore.”

So this is what I was calling Mitch O’Farrell’s office about. As the councilmember for this area, it’s very likely his office was involved in coordinating these sweeps. At the very least, his office almost certainly knew they were happening.

But something odd happened when I called. I wanted to talk to Juan Fregoso, the Field Deputy for that area. But Juan wasn’t there, so I was stuck with the guy who answered the phone, “Steve.” I quickly told him my concerns about the sweeps and then he cut me off — “there are no sweeps,” he said. I asked for his last name, he wouldn’t tell me, and then he hung up. (His name is Steve Jaramillo.)

So then I called O’Farrell’s City Hall office, and the guy who answered the phone, “William,” repeated essentially the same line. He cut me off twice, saying they’re not “sweeps,” they’re just “clean-ups.”(William Ayala)

SELAH got a similar response from O’Farrell’s office. They were told the sweeps were actually “service days.”

So Mitch O’Farrell’s office has given up on defending the inhumanity they oversee. There is no way to justify what the city does to our neighbors sleeping on the street. Instead, O’Farrell’s staffers have been instructed to make this a debate about proper wording.

This is despite “sweeps” being the term used by every major media publication in LA, not just socialist activists like myself. (LA Times: “Homeless Camp Sweep Downtown…”; LAist: “LA will spend $30 million this year on homeless sweeps”; Curbed: “Homeless sweeps aren’t just disruptive, they aren’t working”; etc.)

These people should be ashamed of themselves. Even though they’re just low-level staffers who are probably “just following orders,” they’re carrying water for an absolutely brutal and inhumane system, and are flat out lying to constituents who might not know any better. (Quit your job, cowards!)

Mitch O’Farrell, of course, is the biggest scumbag here. But none of this is a surprise to anyone who’s ever tried to get Mitch to take some time off from posing next to celebrities on the Walk of Fame to actually help some poor people. (Don’t forget how he treated the rent-striking Burlington tenants about a year ago.)

Check out the demands of the Services Not Sweeps coalition for a vision of how a humane and just city would treat its unhoused residents.