On Tuesday, fifteen officials from the White House toured Skid Row in Los Angeles with the head of a local homeless shelter.
“Four or five of them were from the Environmental Protection Agency,” Rev. Andy Bales of Union Mission church told me. “That’s because human waste flows into storm sewers.”
California is home to some of the world’s toughest environmental and public health laws, but skyrocketing homelessness has created an environmental and public health disaster.
The 44,000 people living, eating, and defecating on the streets of L.A. have brought rats and medieval diseases including typhus. Garbage is everywhere. Experts fear the return of cholera and leprosy.
And homelessness is making people violent. “We are seeing behaviors from our guests that I’ve never seen in 33 years,” said Bales.
“They are so bizarre and different that I don’t even feel right describing the behaviors. It’s extreme violence of an extreme sexual nature. I have been doing this for 33 years and never seen anything like it.”
Bales says he was one of the people who urged the US Government’s Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) to intervene.
“We’ve been crying out for a National Guard-like response,” said Bales, whose church provides food, showers, and shelter to 1,350 people camped nearby. In 2016 Bales lost the lower half of his leg to a flesh-eating bacteria from contamination on Skid Row.