A couple days ago it came out on Twitter that a lot of people in Los Angeles don’t understand how homeless encampment sweeps get scheduled and why, in particular how encampments to be swept are chosen. I promised to write a post about it, and here we are!1 Part of the reason for the delay is that the story is really complex, so I’m just going to talk qualitatively about how encampments end up being targeted by Council Districts and leave the rest for another post or two.2 For instance, the City has two kinds of sweep teams, which are CARE and CARE+, but I’m not going to talk about the differences,3 which are probably important, but not for this post.
Each Council Office has a staffer whose job is to work out their District’s sweep schedule with LA Sanitation. I think that ordinarily every request for a sweep in a given District goes through this San contact.4 The scheduling is done by email as well as by editing Google Docs, and the emails occasionally reveal the reason a given encampment is being targeted. Here are the sets of records this post is mostly5 based on. If you’re interested in the subject it’s really worth looking at these. There’s a lot more information there than I’m using here:
⬟ Housedweller Complaints to Juan Fregoso About Echo Park Encampments — From 2019 and 2020
⬟ CD15 Emails With LA Sanitation — January through May 2020
First, let’s take a look at the ordinary process. Each CD schedules its CARE+ sweeps in three week blocks at least a week in advance by choosing from prepared lists of already-approved targets. These targets are also provided by Council Districts to LA San to undergo the approval process. So for instance, the sweep schedule for March 16 through April 10, 2020 was meant to be complete on March 10. On March 9 Sarah Bell, CD15’s handler at LA San, sent CD15 sweep coordinator Gabriela Medina, the list of preapproved targets and asked her to provide her district’s CARE+ priorities, which Medina did promptly. Medina’s notes are worth looking at as they reveal something about CD15’s motivations if not the process of choice:
Day 1 | Harbor | Wilmington
Priority Locations (in order as far as urgency):
200122015 777 N King Ave @ W Anaheim St (HIGH URGENCY, encampment located next to apartment buildings)
200122021 723 E F St @ Eubank Ave
200212007 420 E G St @ E G St (@ Banning Blvd.)
200212011 1430 W E St @ W E St
200221020 535 N Broad Ave @ F St: The perimeter has to be expanded to include Avalon Blvd., W G Street, Broad Ave, East E Street, including the alleys that fall in between.
200225042 1926 E Pacific Coast Hwy @ E Mauretania St
At some point Sanitation shares these schedules with the Unified Homelessness Response Center, which is run by the Mayor’s office and which is meant to coordinate the work of all the different agencies and departments involved. I don’t know what UHRC does with the information except that they produce the daily CARE/CARE+ schedules and send them out to everyone the day before. Note that the daily schedule is actually really flexible even though sweeps are also scheduled weeks in advance.
Each CD can move encampments around or even add new ones to the schedule even the day of the sweep, which you’ll see in the examples below. Also, the CARE schedules usually have some slots designated “Code 75.” These are locations which are given to sweep teams after they leave the yard in the morning. As far as I know CDs can call these in at any time. Next let’s look at a bunch of specific examples.
Here’s one from CD1. Their designated sweep scheduler is Jose Rodriguez. This story starts on February 27, 2020, when LAPD Sgt Joshua Medina emailed Werner Flores of LAPD’s Homeless Outreach & Proactive Engagement6 about an encampment at North Broadway and Avenue 20, telling him that “the neighborhood is complaining” about “the transients” and asking can “you guys … get rid of them again”:
From: Joshua Medina
Sent: Thursday, February 27, 2020 9:01 PM
To: Werner Flores <email@example.com>
Subject: Broadway/Ave 20
The neighborhood is complaining that the transients on Broadway and Ave 20 are creating another encampment and are being violent. I’ve attached the pictures. Hopefully you guys and [sic] get rid of them again.
And these unverified, unrecorded complaints from “the neighborhood” were all it took to get the process started. Flores forwarded the email to LAPD Officer Sharon Azpeitia, who’s assigned to the Unified Homelessness Response Center. She forwarded it to Josselyne Hernandez, a Sanitation staffer also assigned to UHRC. Hernandez forwarded it to Sanitation’s Diana Gonzalez, who schedules sweeps for a few Council Districts, including CD1. Gonzalez sent it to Jose Rodriguez, and together they found a space on CD1’s encampment sweep schedule to allow the authorities to “get rid of them again.”
The request went through six different offices before the CARE team hit the encampment. Presumably someone set up this procedure to allow for some kind of pre-sweep review, some kind of sanity checks. But there’s no checking at any stage. No one asks about the accuracy of the putative factual basis for the sweep, that “transients” are “creating another encampment and are being violent.” One email from one cop who may or may not have talked to some other people is enough to get an encampment removed.
Now to Tristan Marler, a CD11 staffer covering Venice, Cecelia Shackelford, CD11’s assigned Sanitation sweep scheduler, and Ruben Hernandez, who’s some kind of Sanitation supervisor. This one’s a good example of a last-minute sweep ending up on the schedule less than 24 hours after a housedweller complaint. It started on March 5, 2020 , when Venice housedweller Cissy Chen emailed CD11 Deputy Chief of Staff Arianne Garcia to complain about an encampment on the north side of Rose Avenue along the Penmar Golf Course:
From: Cissy Chen <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 2:10 PM
Subject: Trash clean up requested along Rose Ave next to Penmar Golf Course
Please send some cleaning crew to clean up the mess along Rose Ave between Penmar Ave and Lincoln Blvd( next to Penmar Golf Course) as soon as possible.
Please ask the cleaning crew to clean up the whole street between Penmar and Lincoln instead of one small section of the street as before. If they just clean up one small section, that will not do any good.
Thanks for your prompt attention.
And as before, that one email was all it took to win the encampment a spot on CD11’s CARE schedule. Garcia forwarded it to Marler, Marler to Shackelford and Hernandez, and at 4:46 PM, just two and a half hours after Chen’s complaint, Hernandez had scheduled it. At 4 PM the next day Hernandez reported to Marler that the encampment had been swept that morning.
Complaints from housedwellers seem like the most common source of sweep targets, but also Council District staff can target encampments purely on their own initiative. As before, they seem to be able to do this without effective oversight or review. For instance, see this March 4, 2020 email from CD3 field deputy Keith Banks to Sanitation sweep scheduler Sarah Bell, re-listing a few scheduled sweep locations and explaining:
These locations were sent to you already and you have the photos. But I’m adding another location (D) to it. I could not snap the photo because the people are aggressive and throw things at the car. These all need a comprehensive.
And of course, Councilmembers themselves can get encampments swept if they want to, and as with the above examples it seems to require no justification other than their desire. For instance on December 31, 2019 CD13 field deputy Mary Rodriguez emailed Hector Vega, the District’s Sanitation contact person, and told him that Mitch O’Farrell had called her to complain about an encampment and could he please schedule it for a sweep? This seems to be completely sufficient:
To: Hector Vega <email@example.com>
CC: Marisol Rodriguez <firstname.lastname@example.org>
From: Mary Rodriguez
Sent: Tue 12/31/2019 12:09:51 AM
Subject: Atwater Village encampment
The councilmember just called to inform me that a new encampment has been setup [sic] under the Glendale-Hyperion Bridge next to the 5 freeway exit. This is where the fence and bollards were damaged earlier this year. It had been clear until the recent December rain storms but I guess the river homeless were seeking shelter. I have contacted BSS to make the necessary repairs. Please schedule the Care Team to outreach to the people in the underpass. Thanks.
Those are some of the known ways an encampment can be chosen for a sweep. But mostly, at least from the records I’ve seen, it’s not possible to tell how an encampment ends up on the list. I’ve never seen reasons very different from the ones described above, and I read so many of these people’s emails that if there were any I think I’d have seen some trace of them by now.
One thing that’s really clear from reading all these conversations is that any talk of services, of helping the unhoused, and so on, is nothing more to these City staffers than cover for their real goal, which in every case is removing the offending human beings from their district. The service providers at LAHSA don’t seem to be involved in the selection process at all.
And that’s what I have to say for now. I’m sorry this is so fragmented. The subject is a lot more complicated than I let myself realize when I decided to write this post and I understand some parts of it much more poorly than I realized before I set out to write about them. In any case, if I left out essential context or if you’re curious about something I didn’t talk about, or for no reason at all, please leave questions in the comments or hit me up on Twitter!
- I kind of promised to write it yesterday, but fortunately had the foresight (although “self-knowledge” is probably a more accurate term) to hedge with an “ish”, which remains accurate!
- Also, I started with the idea of doing some quantitative analysis of target choices, maybe a pie chart showing how many start with constituent complaints, LAPD nominations, City employees, and so on. Again, though, it’s taking too much time so I’m skipping it but the source material for the post is published so someone else might be able to do this.
- There are differences in their protocols and mission, but the City changes them so often and they’re so widely ignored anyway that I’m not going to bother trying to keep them straight for this post. From the point of view of the council office I think they’re used interchangeably.
- I think this based on my reading of thousands of emails about sweep scheduling. I don’t know for sure that it’s true. If there are written policies regulating this part of the procedure I haven’t seen them. It’s possible that there are other routes to targeting an encampment that my requests have missed entirely. Like e.g. if there’s a way to schedule a sweep through the Mayor’s Unified Homelessness Response Center I wouldn’t necessarily know about it since they constructively refuse to produce any records at all in response to my requests. There are probably other gaps like this in my knowledge. On the other hand, I’ve read so much of this junk that if any of these hypothetical alternate routes exist they aren’t used too much or I’d have seen a trace of them. Probably.
- Apart from possibly a few sporadic emails not in these sets although of course I’ll link to copies of them.
- HOPE, of course. LAPD has a weird penchant for Orwellian backronyms that someone with some damn PR sense ought to put an end to.