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Unhoused Encampments Near SoFi Stadium Cleared

The sweeps resemble tactics used ahead of the 1984 Olympics.

An exterior view of SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA.
The exterior of Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, CA. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Updated 2:40 PM, January 27, 2021.

In late January cleanup crews destroyed encampments in the Inglewood area, just three weeks before the Super Bowl.

Dawn Toftee is on a waiting list for her Section 8 voucher from St. Margaret’s Center. Her shelter was dismantled on Tuesday by CalTrans workers who told her that they were being displaced because of the Super Bowl. She says that she and other residents were offered no housing vouchers and not put on any sort of referral or waiting list that day. Toftee slept in a tent that night, and says that no outreach workers have come by to check on her since the sweep.

TMZ first reported an encampment sweep on Century Boulevard on an on-ramp to the 405 freeway — a direct path to SoFi Stadium — led by CalTrans, California Highway Patrol (CHP), and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA). The article suggested that areas near the upcoming February 13 Super Bowl site were being beautified prior to the arrival of the big game. Caltrans Public Information Officer Lauren Wonder told Knock LA that the encampment “needed to be cleared due to a fire safety issue.”

Wonder also said CalTrans posted a 72-hour notice on January 20 to “allow those at the encampment to gather their belongings and take advantage of services.” When Knock LA followed up to ask what services and outreach were being offered to the people being swept, we were told to follow up with LAHSA.

Public information Officer Ramondo Alexander with Southern Division of CHP told Knock LA that sweeps are ongoing in LA County, that the residents are always given three days’ notice, and that Caltrans dictates the schedule and contracts CHP as a safety precaution. Officer Alexander also told Knock LA that CHP can confiscate illegal items or take “appropriate actions” when illegal items are found. When Knock LA followed up and asked if appropriate actions could mean citation or arrest, they confirmed that. 

Hamid Khan with Stop LAPD Spying Coalition says that “broken windows policing is that as well, where you throw a book at the whole community, and you make people’s lives so freakin’ miserable that it’s like self-deportation.”

Although Caltrans sweeps are not done through his office, Mayor James T. Butts of Inglewood tells Knock LA that “this particular effort by Caltrans has nothing to do with the Super Bowl.” Butts also said the last “support operation” was done on January 11, 2022, about 11 blocks from SoFi Stadium and that the city of Inglewood provides winter shelter. 

Estefany Casteñeda of Lennox-Inglewood Tenants Union has been doing regular weekly outreach to that specific encampment for the past year. Casteñeda also says the encampments off the 405 freeway have not been harassed for months until now. She also says that the Inglewood typically offers short-term housing when conducting these sweeps. For many who were around during the 1984 Olympics, these sweeps bring back memories of systemic banishment leading up to the massive sporting event. 

Sofi Villalpando and a group of friends have been assisting unhoused people in the area under the name Pay It Forward LA since December 2020. Villalpando says that there has not been a complete encampment sweep until now. “Back in May, a group of us were out monitoring [a cleanup] and Public Works actually stuck to their word and really did just come and clean the debris, and they allowed folks to keep their things on the street, and just took the trash out.” Sofi hoped that after signs were posted for clean-ups on Monday and Tuesday, it would work out similarly, but, instead, she says, people were just told to “get out.” 

A Caltrans supervisor told KTLA that 40 vouchers were handed out to folks at the encampments by social workers, but Villalpando says that “that is a lie.” She says she served a meal to residents who were swept last night, and that residents were upset to hear that information, and that no one who was swept on Tuesday said they received any category of housing voucher. 

Madeline deVillers, who has done outreach in the area since August 2020, estimates that between 20 and 25 people were displaced. “Caltrans said that 40 vouchers had been given out,” deVillers noted, “and at the time they said that, it exceeded the number of residents who had been displaced from that area, so it’s curious.” She can’t say for certain that no one has received a housing voucher, but none of the people she has spoken to have. 

The residents she spoke to said they were told by outreach workers that their names were put on a list, but were not able to get off the street unless they used money to get a hotel for the night. 

James Nelson, an organizer with Dignity and Power Now, recalls curfews being put in place for certain communities leading up to the 1984 Olympics. Nelson says he was a known gang member, and he was targeted to be removed from the streets, and that his removal was not associated with any particular crime. “It was about you living in a geographical location,” Nelson says. “Everyone was pretty much part of the same umbrella … I saw people who weren’t gang members, but because they were part of our community, they were taken through the system.” In a recent shooting, four people were killed and one severely injured. 

“Increasingly, we are seeing not only sanitization of places and locations themselves, but it’s all being done under the guise of national security,” says Hamid Khan of Stop LAPD Spying about the effects large sporting events have on law enforcement in local communities. “It’s not just a local law enforcement agency, but it’s both federal and local partnerships, which bring in the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security and the FBI,” Khan continues. Mayor Butts agrees: “Of course there will be increased police presence the week of the Super Bowl, and we will be working with partner agencies to do that.”

But people with lived experience like Nelson say that the increase in police does more harm than good. “Folks in those communities will also be subjected to the investigation of this one particular case. It does have a ripple effect through these different neighborhoods.” 

Nelson was even arrested. “Being 18 years old at the time, we did not understand how the system operates. I started realizing it was to clean up communities in the streets, in their opinion, to have a smooth, successful Olympics, by locking up a group of folks who were Black and brown, for the most part.” Nelson spent eight months in county jail before being released. He was charged with six assaults with a deadly weapon. “That shows how serious the so-called case had been. You don’t do eight months for one assault, let alone six.”

The Super Bowl is the first of several large scale events due to arrive in the LA area, including the 2026 FIFA World Cup and the 2028 Summer Olympics. It’s inevitable that more residents like Toftee will continue to have their belongings destroyed and be displaced without anywhere to go.

“I wish people would just stop treating us like we’re trash,” Toftee says.