Los Angeles’ Skid Row Gets 5 Tons Lighter

Skid Row gets cleaned up
Photo courtesy of Mark Boster of The Los Angeles Times

Think your job sucks? Try cleaning up five tons of garbage – including human waste and dead rats – from the streets of downtown Los Angeles’ Skid Row. That’s what some city workers had to endure recently after an L.A. County report cited multiple public health infractions in the area.

According to the L.A. Times, a total of five tons of trash was collected during the cleanup, including soiled mattresses, used needles, dead rats, 10 knives, 60 razor blades, human feces/urine, drug paraphernalia and even a stash of marijuana. L.A.’s Skid Row area contains one of the largest populations of homeless people in the country.

The area has a population of about 17,000, and about 25-percent of these people are homeless. The city of L.A. increased the number of storage bins available to area residents by 500. These storage areas offer homeless people a place to store their belongings free of charge. The storage bins are located at the Check-In Center, a warehouse run by an area business improvement district organization.

L.A.’s Skid Row is a perfect example of what can happen to a community when waste management and trash hauling services are lacking. People living on the streets produce trash just like anyone else, so a proper garbage collection system needs to be implemented to avoid having to perform future mass cleanups.

Dr. Michael Powe studied life on Skid Row and shared some of his thoughts in a piece published by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. In it, he describes how business improvement districts (BIDs) “do a great job collecting thousands of bags of trash each month” from some areas within the Skid Row area. However, BIDs can only operate in areas that for-profit companies operate in.

The problem is that only nonprofit businesses operate in Skid Row’s ‘ground zero’ area. So, BIDs can’t help keep the worst areas of Skid Row clean. There are several BIDs located around the perimeter of Skid Row; however, the hardest hit areas of Skid Row are off limits to these organizations. BIDs are funded by area businesses which have a vested interest in keeping the streets free of trash.

Estela Lopez of the Central City East Association, a BID that focuses on the industrial district of Skid Row, stated $460,000 will be invested in the area this year. Much of the money is spent on trash hauling, landfill fees, gasoline and dumpsters. Lopez points out the hardest hit areas of Skid Row, such as the San Julian area, need area businesses to invest in the area so that BIDs such as hers can begin helping to improve the area.

The whole debacle largely comes down to politics. However, the recent cleanup helps. Additionally, some grassroots organizations are helping to improve areas of Skid Row that don’t receive funding from BIDs. Operation Face-Lift is one such organization helping to clean-up the streets of L.A.’s Skid Row.

Areas like Skid Row can teach us that responsible waste removal is critical to the health and prosperity of our nation. It’s nice to see people chipping in to help in one of the most poverty stricken areas of the U.S.

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