Los Angeles officials cleared an encampment of homeless people near SoFi Stadium, where the Super Bowl takes place in three weeks, sparking backlash from human rights groups and homeless residents who have been moved.
On Monday and Tuesday, transit agency Caltrans shut down the tent community, which visitors would likely have passed on their way to the big game, calling it a “safety issue.”
But some have accused authorities of forcing people to disappear without providing housing or services.
“They’re just trying to survive,” said Sofi Villalpando, who works with some of the displaced residents. “It’s like feeling [authorities] abduct people so that they cannot be seen.
Dawn Toftee, 57, who lived in the encampment which was cleared, told the Guardian on Wednesday that she had lost the sofa she slept on during the sweep and was now sleeping on a blanket in a nearby street where she felt less safe. “Now I’m on this site where I didn’t want to be. There’s been killings and shootings around here… They should let us get our house back.
Toftee said another homeless resident, who uses a wheelchair, also lost the mattress he was sleeping on during the cleanup. She blamed the Super Bowl: “It’s terrible and it’s bullshit.”
The controversial sweep comes as elected officials in Los Angeles have increasingly initiated high-profile encampment closures in response to a deepening humanitarian crisis. There were about 48,000 people living on the streets in LA County at the start of the pandemic, the latest count. The sweeps’ strategy, critics say, prioritized aesthetics and complaints from neighbors, leading to residents of established tent communities being dispersed into more dangerous living conditions.
It also comes as the region deals with major Covid outbreaks at homeless shelters across the county, further limiting the options of homeless people.
It is not known how many people were affected by this week’s sweep and whether anyone received housing, shelter or other services. Michael Comeaux, a spokesman for Caltrans, directed the Guardian to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (Lahsa), the county’s service provider that has partnered with Caltrans for “education and support.”
A Lahsa spokesperson said the agency spoke to eight residents of the encampment on Tuesday, but did not confirm whether any had been successfully placed in housing.
Comeaux said Caltrans brought “left-behind personal effects” to a nearby maintenance yard where they would be stored for a few weeks, and the agency issued notices about the “cleanup” 72 hours in advance. Comeaux said that if a sofa or mattress appears to be in an “unusable state”, the crew will dispose of it.
Madeline deVillers, another attorney working with residents, said Caltrans showed up hours earlier than some residents expected and witnessed the discarded belongings. She estimated that more than two dozen people had been displaced by the sweep and said she did not personally know anyone who received any form of housing or shelter. Most people were camping in nearby streets, she said.
“There are community ties here – people help each other out,” she said. “If I distribute certain supplies, they are passed on to other people. So having this loss of community really takes a lot of people’s resources… and it’s really difficult and dangerous for those people.
While Caltrans said a “fire safety” issue prompted the cleanup, advocates questioned why the entire camp had to be closed. And a worker on site told local station KTLA that the Super Bowl was behind the sweep.
“Nobody wants to take responsibility for what’s happening,” said Annie Powers, organizer of NOlympics LA, a coalition that organized against the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, partly out of fear that it could lead to this kind of scans. “We see it time and time again – with sports capitalism, celebrations or other big events like the Super Bowl or the Olympics, the city tries to make the city more beautiful for outside investors. They are therefore very encouraged to try to remove the poor from the streets.
Residents have had a wide range of experiences that landed them on the streets, Villalpando said, including some whose partners had died, leading to a loss of financial stability, and others without work due to injury. Some had already been moved from another area which had undergone a camp sweep: “It’s such a broken system and I don’t feel like there’s accountability.”
Toftee, the displaced resident, said she didn’t mind officials clearing the area, but wished they could return to the site, where she said she had been camping for about two years.
“I’m tired of being on the streets and I don’t want to die here,” she said, noting that she had several homeless friends who had died recently. A recent UCLA report estimated that 1,500 homeless people died while living on the streets from March 2020 to July 2021. Toftee said she wants elected officials to understand their experiences: “Why don’t you come spend a day or two here, and see what we’re going through? »
“I have nowhere to go,” added Dawn Wilson, 49, another displaced resident, who said she had not been offered accommodation and was now camping on a sidewalk with her dog. “They don’t care what happens to us.”
NFL spokespersons did not immediately respond to an inquiry Wednesday afternoon.