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Los Angeles City to possibly hire homeless individuals to collect trash

By Tyler Noble

Nov. 15, 2017 11:30 p.m.

The city of Los Angeles may soon pay homeless individuals to collect garbage.

The Los Angeles City Council Public Works and Gang Reduction committee approved a motion earlier in November to hire homeless individuals to collect garbage. The motion, which was written by city councilmembers Bob Blumenfield and Joe Buscaino, also aims to address the excess garbage on public walkways and streets – one of the issues residents most frequently report to the city.

The two councilmembers referenced in the motion the success of similar programs, like the graffiti abatement program, which allows social service programs to hire transitional workers and members of the homeless community to paint over graffiti in various areas around Los Angeles.

Some Westwood officials said they are skeptical about whether the plan would be successful in actually helping homeless individuals.

Lisa Chapman, president of the Westwood Neighborhood Council, said she thinks paying homeless individuals to pick up trash is not the most beneficial way to help them because it does not address root causes of why they are homeless.

“It does not look at what they will need to get back on their feet again with job training, housing, mental health care and rehab services,” she said.

Chapman added she thinks programs like Santa Monica’s Homeless Multidisciplinary Street Team, which consist of medical professionals who meet with homeless individuals to evaluate their mental and physical health and refer them to immediate aid, are a better way of helping the city’s homeless population.

Evelyn Blumenberg, a professor of urban planning, said the homeless population is diverse and some will not be interested or able to participate in the program. She added the city should consider how the program will run, how much homeless individuals will be paid and which services will be associated with the project.

“The program could potentially be beneficial if it provides reasonable pathways to self-sufficiency, opportunities to connect the homeless to other necessary services such as housing, jobs and health care and improved quality of life for the homeless living on the streets,” she said.

Abel Valenzuela Jr., a professor of urban planning and chicano/a studies, said he thinks the proposal could lead to the exploitation of homeless individuals if elected officials do not establish proper pay rates or benchmarks of success for homeless employees.

However, he added he thinks the proposition could help both the city and the homeless community if the city adequately considers their needs.

“I believe accumulated litter, trash and debris is a public health and safety concern that impacts neighborhoods, public spaces and our environment,” he said. “Efforts to mitigate against and to clean it should be taken seriously, including recycling and paying workers who clean fairly.”

Buscaino and Blumenfield said in the proposal the Department of Public Works currently has skilled workers responding to daily litter maintenance, and that hiring homeless individuals would allow the workers to work on more complex projects.

City staff will present a finalized plan to the city council in the future.

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