Shocking new images from Los Angeles show the city’s descent into a rubbish-choked, rat-infested homeless camp with human faeces on the streets and feared outbreaks of disease.
Burgeoning mountains of decaying trash across 50 squalid blocks of LA’s downtown area has reportedly resulted in one police officer’s treatment for typhoid.
Five other officers from the same Central Division police station are showing “typhus like symptoms”.
Photographs taken this week show homeless people wheeling belongings past row upon row of tents and people passed out on the footpath.
One columnist for the prestigious Los Angeles Times described the situation this week as
“the collapse of a city that’s lost control”.
“What century is this?” Steve Lopez asked.
“Is it the 21st century in the largest city of a state that ranks among the world’s most robust economies, or did someone turn back the calendar a few hundred years?
“Sidewalks have disappeared, hidden by tents and the kinds of makeshift shanties you see in Third World places.”
LAPD officers have threatened to seek transfers out of the area long described as “Skid Row” for its homeless population but only recently a ballooning health hazard because of a city ordinance.
Skid Row covers an area of mostly commercial streets, a railway line, shops and restaurants which has become strewn with rubbish, tent cities and homeless people pushing around their belongings.
Almost 20 years ago it was estimated around 2500 homeless people lived within in one square kilometre Skid Row area.
Just a 15 minute drive from LA’s most famous landmark, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Skid Row is now a stinking eyesore of tent cities and shantytowns housing 4200 people.
City sanitation workers — dressed in gloves and face masks — struggle to clear the detritus and trails of urine and faeces.
The problem escalated when the city of Los Angeles decided in a legal settlement not to restrict the total amount of property homeless people can accumulate in the Skid Row area and surrounds.
Previously a person could keep just 60 gallons (less than a quarter of a cubic metre).
The decision to not cap property that homeless people can keep has sparked anger that “the public health crisis that already exists” will only get worse.
The city of LA announced it would throw away sofas, refrigerators, pallets and other bulky items choking the 50-block area.
It has the authority to seize and destroy contraband, hazardous materials and rat-infested property that threatens public health and safety.
However, other possessions seized must be segregated, clearly marked and stored for 90 days in a Skid Row warehouse.
Medication and other critical items taken during arrests or encampment clean-ups must be available to be returned within 24 hours.
Critics of the latest decision fear the city’s struggle to weigh up the property rights of homeless people against the welfare and life quality of the city has now been lost.
LA City Councilman Joe Buscaino said the removal of the 60 gallon cap would only exacerbate the public rubbish dump that is now downtown LA.
“The settlement will only perpetuate the public health crisis that already exists in Skid Row and will set a precedent for the rest of the city that will normalise encampments,” he said.
“The city is sending a clear signal that we are turning the sidewalks in Skid Row into free, unlimited public storage, doing a disservice to the residents of Los Angeles, especially to those living on the streets.”
Estimates of Skid Row’s population, which include permanent residents living in hotels, is up ward of 10,000.
Once predominantly African-American males, over the recent years, the number of women, children and white people has increased.
A percentage of the population is veterans, and people with substance abuse and/or mental illnesses.