A handful of homeless people rummaged through heaps of garbage Thursday in search of their belongings hauled off the day before in Venice by city trash collectors.
The trash haul Wednesday on 3rd Avenue between Rose and Sunset avenues was done by the Los Angeles City Bureau of Sanitation, which is part of the Department of Public Works, with the involvement of the Los Angeles Police Department, said Richard Lee, a spokesman for the Bureau of Sanitation.
Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said the sanitation cleanup occurred following "many, many complaints" from a broad cross-section of local people about public urination, defecation, blocked sideways and trash in the street.
"Sanitation took away as trash anything that was abandoned," Rosendahl said Thursday. "It was a sanitation action of picking stuff up and, if people left stuff there, sanitation treated it as they would any abandoned stuff, as trash."
Rosendahl said that he heard afterward that many homeless had their personal belongings collected and he arranged for two of the garbage trucks to be transferred to a Bureau of Sanitation yard in the 3300 block of Thatcher Avenue. The homeless searched Thursday for their belongings and Rosendahl said they also were invited back Friday from 10 a.m. to noon to reclaim their property.
Rosendahl also said that he would make it a policy going forward to give the homeless a courtesy notice before cleanups.
The incident is the latest in a series of developments impacting Venice's homeless population, including , limitations on overnight parking for large vehicles and a program to transition vehicle dwellers into housing.
The newly amended Ocean Front Walk ordinance bans loitering on the Venice Beach boardwalk between midnight and 5 a.m. and its recent enforcement has turned 3rd Avenue near Gold's Gym, Digital Domain and the new Google offices into a homeless encampment. About 50 homeless people had their belongings tossed into dump trucks Wednesday during the cleanup that caught many of the homeless by surprise, said David Busch, a 56-year-old homeless man who lost all of his belongings.
Busch was among those who foraged Thursday for their personal property. He was able to retrieve his so-called "Love Box" – a large yellow bin filled with his arts supplies and other goods that he wheels around Venice. He also found his backpack that held his laptop computer, numerous coffee cans that had been used as ashtrays on 3rd Avenue and several art pieces.
The group People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) aided Thursday's retrieval by driving the homeless to the sanitation yard.
A homeless couple with two small dogs also sorted through the chest-high piles of debris and retrieved clothes, money and food. Chris Jackson, 21, excitedly held up a can of smoked almonds, a package of sunflower seeds and, finally, a bag of Butterfinger candy.
"They didn't lay a finger on my Butterfinger," he said atop the trash heap.
Denise Krajewski, 27, collected a plastic bag of art supplies, dog food that belonged to a homeless friend and a sack full of clothing that recently had been donated to her.
Jackson held up a jacket that had a few crumpled dollar bills in it as proof that his belongings had not been abandoned.
"Does this look like something that a homeless person would abandon," he said holding up the money.
Neil Donovan, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless, said the cleanup served as another example of the city's callous attitude toward the homeless.
"It's symptomatic of a city (Los Angeles) that is distancing itself from the homeless population rather than bringing the homeless population into the fold in an effort to solve homelessness," Donovan said Thursday. "There's a certain hypocrisy where they are conducting a 10-year plan to end homelessness with one hand and pushing the homeless out of arm's reach with the other."
A 2009 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty ranked Los Angeles as the meanest city in the country toward its homeless due to laws or practices that criminalize being homeless.
Donovan said the 2009 report robs the city of the ability to use ignorance as an excuse.
"They are at this point informed about it, from Mayor Villaraigosa to the beat cop to the sanitation engineer doing the sweep," Donovan said. "It really is their responsibility to do something about it and when they don't do something about it, that's when the condition becomes worse because it becomes aggressive negligence."
Steve Clare, executive director of the Venice Community Housing Corporation, said Wednesday night that the 3rd Avenue cleanup was one of the more aggressive city actions in recent history. His organization hosted a legal clinic Wednesday night for homeless people to record their grievances against the city.
"It has not been done on this scale in Venice in the last few years," Clare said. "This is pretty much unprecedented. I'm amazed. This clearly was planned and authorized."
Clare said the cleanup shows that Los Angeles deserves its reputation as the nation's meanest big city when it comes to addressing homeless problems.
"It's an awful reputation to have, but as you can see, it's pretty well deserved," Clare said.
Rosendahl acknowledged that Los Angeles has significant homeless issues. He said that he's been continuing his push for a 24-hour, 365-day homeless shelter for the Westside. The current winter shelter program serving the area ends March 15.