LA City Councilmembers Aim to Replace Homeless Sweeps with Services

homeless encampment

“First, do no harm.”

The heart of humanity is always positioned in the red-hot center of homeless debates. It is for this reason that we at Invisible People applaud city councilmembers Nithya Raman and Mike Bonin for their recent proposition which encourages services over sweeps.

Sweeps Do a Great Deal of Harm

For readers who might not be privy to the lingo, a sweep is what happens when city officials run through a homeless encampment like bulls (or bullies) ripping down tents and trashing belongings under the guise of cleaner streets. Sometimes, when government officials get involved, they refer to these sweeps as “cleanups”.

Homeless advocates (like Mike and Nithya) know better. No dirtier trick could be played on the homeless community. Sweeps have major repercussions for our unsheltered neighbors. Oftentimes, they lead to one or more of the following:

  • Citations
  • Arrests
  • Loss of shelter (which might be a tent or other makeshift habitat)
  • Loss of belongings like documents, food, clothing, and medication

Additionally, these measures are expensive. They drain money that could serve far greater purposes in the community.

Supporters of sweeps claim they don’t want to hurt homeless people. All they really want is cleaner streets. Herein lies a common thread that exists between advocates and NIMBY’s, politicians, and health enthusiasts. We all want cleaner streets. By pointing out this common goal, these two barrier-breaking councilmembers struck a chord that could have the whole world moving more harmoniously.

The Thing We All Disagree On is How to Get Cleaner Streets

Public perception of homelessness has given way to grave misunderstandings that make homelessness look like a choice, therefore vilifying homeless people by default. People who support sweeps are often misled into believing that criminalization is the only way to handle homelessness. In reality, criminalization exacerbates the homeless crisis every time it’s put to use.

The Proposed Pilot Program Reduces Hazardous Waste and Homelessness Without Resorting to Harmful Punitive Procedures

As Nithya and Mike have pointed out, there is a better way. Their proposition is a non-punitive approach to cleaner streets – one that really could wind up reducing homelessness if it is implemented correctly. Under their proposition, rather than throwing people’s belongings in the garbage and shuffling human beings from one vacant lot to the next, “cleanups” would consist of providing the following services:

  • Trash and bulk pickup
  • Sanitation (such as mobile showers and lavatories, clean water and tent exchanges)
  • Provisions (basic needs like food and drink, tent exchange, and accommodations for homeless people with disabilities)
  • Waste removal and much more

These regularly scheduled services would not involve law enforcement, a measure that has been recommended by groups who wish to rethink the type of policing that often incites brutality. Instead, encampment residents would be engaged by outreach workers who truly wish to help them acquire housing.

These sorts of interactions open a doorway out of homelessness. Arrests and citations, on the other hand, tend to open the revolving door that almost always leads back into homelessness.

When addressing City News Service in regards to the newly proposed pilot program, Nithya Raman made the following statement:

“When our unhoused neighbors are given the same sanitation services as our housed ones, and engaged with collaboratively, we can build a system that benefits all Angelenos. I am proud to co-present a motion that takes this philosophy citywide.”

This Program Comes in Tandem with a Recent Rebuttal from a Superior Court Judge as Advocates Demanded Putting an End to Sweeps During the Pandemic

One thing that could be viewed as positive is the fact that the pandemic has forced homelessness to the forefront of national news. To that end, politicians and advocates alike are wrought with worry about how to handle encampments.

On Monday, a superior court judge denied homeless advocates’ request to stop harmful sweeps or “cleanups” from happening altogether. Supporters of the judge’s decision emphasized a need for cleaner streets amid our international health crisis.

This proposed pilot program gives the term “cleanup” a new meaning – and a cleaner one at that.

We’re excited to see what comes out of this collaborative strategy. Notably, Nithya Raman and Mike Bonin both recently participated in a #CancelRent teach-in to touch on topics like eviction, oppression, and COVID-related poverty. Prior to the event, Councilmember Mike Bonin vowed to “take big actions to help”.

It’s so rare and refreshing to see politicians keep their promises about helping the homeless community.

Show Your Support for Services in Place of Sweeps

Now that you know how harmful sweeps or “mandatory cleanups” can be, it’s your job to stop them from happening in LA and all across the nation. Be sure to let your representatives know that you support programs that advocate for services, not programs that force people out of their makeshift “homes” and into even worse situations.

Cynthia Griffith

Cynthia Griffith


Cynthia Griffith is a freelance writer dedicated to social justice and environmental issues.

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