City and county crews are preparing a sweep of homeless encampments near the Los Angeles River south of Anaheim Street in Long Beach, even as the city’s homeless shelters are near capacity and the temporary winter shelter is slated to close in a little more than a week.
Officials posted notices near the LA River that said the area would be cleaned of all debris by the city of Long Beach beginning at 7 a.m. Wednesday, though it appeared on Wednesday afternoon that the sweep had been delayed, possibly due to the rain. The notice, which was posted Monday, said the area would be cleaned from Wednesday through Friday.
David Freeman, a longtime homeless advocate, estimated 200 people could be displaced, many of whom had been living on the riverbed for an extended period of time.
That number has not been independently confirmed, but there were about 40 tents still in the riverbed area Wednesday afternoon.
Advocates are hoping for some kind of miracle to avert the sweep, according to Freeman.
“They’re all out of their camp, basically roaming around,” he said.
While some advocates assumed the sweep was linked to the upcoming Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, when views of the city are prominently featured on national TV, a spokesperson for the racing event said the organization did not know about the sweep and had nothing to do with it.
“That’s a decision made by the City alone,” Chris Esslinger, the Grand Prix’s director of communications, said.
Paul Duncan, manager of Long Beach’s Homeless Services Bureau, said in an interview that cleanups along the riverbed typically happen twice a year, and they are conducted by LA County with assistance from the city in certain areas.
“There is a conversation that some people feel that displacing people is unhelpful, and I agree for the most part,” Duncan said. “It is disruptive, it creates stress for people and definitely has an impact on people’s mental health, yet at the same time, like, if you go along the riverbed, there are places where there are some public health concerns.”
Specifically, Duncan cited hepatitis B and Shigella outbreaks that have been seen at encampments in the past.
Duncan noted that while the city’s shelters have been at high capacity, with only two to three beds opening up per day, there has consistently been space available at the Multi-Service Center, which is Long Beach’s hub for homelessness services. City officials have temporarily opened up 60 beds there that are available on a first-come, first-served basis. While the MSC has come close to filling up, Duncan said officials have not yet had to turn anyone away.
Still, it’s unclear whether there’s sufficient space for the number of people who have been living near the riverbed and are expected to leave.
Duncan said officials conduct outreach two weeks before a sweep begins to connect people with the resources available to them at the Multi-Service Center, including connections to temporary housing or services. He added that city officials have gone to the riverbed area multiple times to inform people of this cleanup and the options available to them.
It’s easier to move people into housing if they respond within the first day of outreach, Duncan noted, than if they wait until the cleanup begins to seek out services.
People who have been living in the encampment, though, said Wednesday that they have seen no outreach.
On Wednesday afternoon, Jamila, a resident at the encampment who declined to give her last name, was in the process of packing up her belongings ahead of the sweep.
Earlier this week, Jamila saw when city workers posted the signs at the encampment advising of the sweep, yet nobody came out to talk to the residents or offer any housing options.
“Where are we supposed to go in the rain? … Where are we going to put our stuff at?” Jamila said. “They’re not worried about none of that stuff. They’re just worried about doing the cleanup, and everybody’s gonna be scattered everywhere with more trash everywhere.”
Although she’s had a voucher to help find housing for some time now, she said she’s had trouble finding a place because “landlords don’t want to rent to homeless people.”
DeeDee Luera was also among the people experiencing homelessness at the LA River site on Wednesday afternoon. She said she’s lived at this encampment for about two years now and that the biannual sweeps typically happen around March and September.
“It just sucks,” Luera said. “You’d be shocked how long I’ve been trying to get hotel vouchers.”
This year, Luera said she noticed there are a lot more tents than there have been during previous sweeps.
She said they’re sometimes given a few weeks’ notice to clear whatever belongings they don’t want thrown away, but everyone at the encampment waits until the last minute to move out because “it’s something you dread.”
With little to no options left, Luera plans to move to Drake Park until the city is done cleaning up the riverbed area.
Staff writers Laura Anaya-Morga and Alicia Robinson contributed to this report.