Cafes on the corner, museums, music halls, high-rise apartments, and local bodegas are just some of the iconic sights and sounds of metropolitan areas in California. But what about homeless camps?
Although homeless populations are generally harmless, the campout areas they tend to reside showcase human beings natural gravitation to community and group protection. Still, the presence of homeless encampment area’s can pose serious health concerns.
Litter, needles, pests, and biohazardous waste can build up in camps. These become threats to both the homeless and the general community.
In this article, we will explore why city-ordained homeless camp clean-up is necessary. We will also detail why you should hire this difficult and dangerous task out to a professional cleaning team.
Professional Cleaning Services for Homeless Camps
Are you familiar with professional cleaning services? No, we're not talking about any weekly visits by housemaids - although sometimes they clean houses too!
Professional cleaners, like HCI Environmental, are companies that arrive after first responders. Crime scenes can involve hazardous substances.
Other scenes can include car accidents, scenes of death or injury, hoarder homes, and more.
Professional cleaning crews are responsible for removing and disposing of biohazards. Biohazards include bodily fluids like blood, urine, feces, needles, and more. The removal of biohazards is a serious subject.
Cleaning crews also know how to deal with chemical hazards. They clean places where criminals have produced dangerous drugs. These drugs can be like methamphetamine and fentanyl.
Cleaning companies will also clean where there have been chemical spills. Chemical hazards can be just as detrimental to the environment as they are for people.
Professional cleaning crews are vital to public health. They prevent the public from exposure to biohazards. Examples of these hazards are bloodborne pathogens and hazardous chemicals in public waterways.
Lack of sanitation can be a serious public health concern when it comes to homeless camps.
Understanding the Homelessness Issue
Rent prices have skyrocketed in recent years. Even people with stable, well-paying jobs have a difficult time affording housing. Add in debt, medical problems, and a lack of education, and the "American Dream" becomes unattainable for many Americans.
In recent years, homeless camps have blossomed in cities across the United States. East coast and west coast cities like San Diego and New York have become notorious. They have very high numbers of homeless populations.
Encampments of homeless people tend to spring up everywhere. Most commonly, they are off of highways, under bridges, and in other secluded locations.
In general, most homeless people are harmless and down on their luck. However, some can bring crime into areas where they settle. Most homeless individuals are simply going through financial hardships.
Some also struggle with mental health problems or drug addiction. Approximately 35% of homeless people struggle with some form of substance abuse. Many are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Homeless people seek to join homeless camps for security, community, and sharing. This is a natural human instinct, and it's true that people are safer in groups than they are alone.
Unfortunately, too much sharing can become a public health concern. Nobody should ever share needles.
When homeless camps get out of hand, they can become riddled with garbage. Urine, fecal matter, and used needles also collect in homeless camps. Trash and biohazardous waste find their way into public waterways and pose a serious risk for the whole city.
In response to this, city officials have begun to enact regular homeless camp clean-ups.
The Process of Homeless Camp Clean-Up
Many big cities, like Portland, Oregon, allow citizens to report homeless encampments. Cities will schedule homeless camp clean-ups after so many encampment reports. They may also clean camps for other issues like crime, littering, and theft.
These clean-ups are intended to help homeless people and the community. The law requires most cities to give campers a window of time to collect and clean out their belongings.
Recently, the city of San Diego provided homeless campers with only 3-hours notice to remove their tents and leave the area. Most cities will give campers up to 72 hours.
Once the notice time has ended, cleaning crews move in. These crews can be volunteers, city workers, or hired companies. HCI Environmental is an excellent choice for homeless camp clean-ups.
We begin our homeless camp clean-up process by breaking down large debris. We will then remove and dispose of any items deemed unsanitary or unusable. Homeless camp biohazard items are often covered in blood or human waste.
Items seeming to have no personal value, like garbage, will also be thrown out. Cities will store some items with value, like bikes, in city storage for a limited time. The owner will have to communicate with the city to collect them.
During a camp clean-up, officials encourage homeless people to leave the area. They help them to seek housing at homeless shelters. Some homeless people who refuse to leave the camp may be fined for illegal camping.
After the clean-up, most homeless camps are eventually re-established. This starts the cycle again.
Obviously, the cleaning of homeless camps presents a variety of serious social and public health challenges. On the one hand, we feel a sense of compassion and empathy towards the disadvantaged. Still, we need to remove litter and biohazards from camps to protect all citizens.
Advantages of Hiring a Professional Cleaning Company
Hiring a cleaning crew, rather than recruiting the help of volunteers or city workers, can help you with these challenges. Professional cleaning crews are better equipped to deal with waste and traumatic situations.
They can provide your city with the necessary documents for public records. Professionals also allow volunteers to focus on homeless outreach projects.
Social and Community Concerns
Hiring a professional cleaning crew has many advantages for the community. Public health concerns are not the only issue.
Social and community issues play a huge role in handling homeless populations. HCI pays attention to more than just biohazard cleaning. We also give focus to other social concerns, as described below.
Trash and miscellaneous objects collect at homeless camps. They will inevitably find their way into public waterways, parks and woodlands. Not only does garbage distract from the beauty of the city, but it also damages the environment and can kill fish, birds, and other animals.
Hazardous chemicals at homeless camps, while not as common as biohazards, are of noteworthy concern as well. These can include materials like paint, oil, gasoline, household chemicals, and chemicals used in drug production. Obviously, these chemicals are detrimental to wildlife and dangerous when exposed to waterways.
Homeless camps don't always form in open areas. Sometimes abandoned houses, apartments, and other buildings become shelters for groups of people.
These buildings are not always structurally sound. Many of them contain dangerous building materials like asbestos.
Asbestos is not necessarily hazardous when left on its own. It becomes dangerous when forces break it from the walls and floors of a building.
People can disturb asbestos, as homeless campers often do. Asbestos particles become airborne and cause serious damage to the lungs and airways of people and animals.
HCI trains all employees how to remove, transport, and dispose of asbestos. HCI also trains employees how to remove other hazardous chemicals. Protecting the environment is a top priority for government agencies and city officials, and we're here to help.
Homeless people are more likely to respect the authority of a professional cleaning crew than they would volunteers. They are more likely to follow instructions. Professional services present as a neutral third party, not city officials who are "out to get" the homeless population.
Regular homeless camp clean-ups also serve the purpose of removing drugs and weapons from the community. Clean-up crews remove found weapons from homeless populations.
They can turn them over to city officials or properly dispose of them. This keeps weapons out of the hands of criminals and makes the city community safer.
Many homeless people keep dogs for protection and companionship, but these dogs are not always kept up to date on their vaccinations. Rabies and parasites in homeless dogs are another noteworthy threat. This is another good reason to hire cleaning professionals instead of using volunteer groups.
Homeless camps near schools, daycares, and neighborhoods pose a risk to children. Homeless individuals may seek to harm children. Children may wander into an encampment where chemicals, objects, or people residing there could hurt them.
A professional cleaning crew may also be better for the homeless individuals living in the encampment. A professional cleaning company handles the nitty-gritty tasks.
This means volunteers have more time and energy to focus on community outreach. While the camps are being cleaned, volunteers can help guide homeless people to shelters, food banks, and other resources.
Professional cleaners are frequently called to scenes of death or injury. These can include car accidents, natural disasters, and crime scenes. When clean-ups involve blood and bodily fluids, the scenario is almost always traumatic.
Without a doubt, homeless camps can be sites for serious trauma. Assaults, rapes, abuse, and even deaths are common in these encampments. Men and older adults most often victimize women and young children.
Professional cleaners train and mentally prepare to come across disturbing and disgusting scenes. They might encounter awful sights at homeless camps.
Volunteers and city workers mainly train to handle some issues involved with homeless people, such as food and shelter. They are not always prepared for exposure to traumatic scenes.
HCI Environmental's employees are thoroughly trained in handling traumatic situations. We work closely with community resources and city officials. We ensure that violent scenes at homeless camps are properly handled, and that we destroy any bio-hazardous material.
The records for a homeless camp clean-up operation is another important advantage. HCI creates and keeps records of camp locations. We note impacts on surrounding areas, potential hazards involved, and nearby homeless shelters. We keep this information for directing homeless individuals away from camps.
Cities need documentation for homeless camps. The clean-ups performed there need proper paperwork. This is especially true if a property owner or homeless individual decides to press any charges for property damage, injury, or theft.
Professional cleaning companies also protect the city from charges. If the city is charged with lawsuits, companies keep records to support their case if needed.
Biohazards and Public Health Concerns
There is arguably one important reason to hire professionals for cleaning out homeless camps. This is because of the concern for bodily threats and biohazards.
First responders and city officials know that biohazard waste is extremely common in homeless camps. It is practically unavoidable. Only professionals should handle biohazard cleaning.
Although they are exposed to the same diseases as the general public, rates of infection are much higher in homeless populations. This is due in part to lack of sanitation.
The homeless lifestyle is difficult. No access to healthcare, improper nutrition, and other complications can also make people sick.
Homeless camps do not typically have access to running water or proper toileting facilities. Buckets of human waste present a serious risk of spreading disease. Without a way to properly bathe or wash their hands, homeless people spread disease to others in the camp.
The Covid-19 pandemic is just one example of a disease spreading quickly through small groups of people. Homeless encampments' unsanitary conditions leave homeless people defenseless against viruses like Covid-19.
Pockets of people in camps also make a perfect breeding ground for virus variants, which then spread to the community at large. Covid is not the only threat blazing its way through homeless communities. Influenza, tuberculosis, pneumonia, typhus, and Diphtheria can be deadly without proper medical treatment.
Breaking up vulnerable groups like homeless camps can prevent disease and death.
Needles and Drug Use
Intravenous drug use exacerbates this problem of disease in homeless camps. Sometimes homeless people and drug addicts share needles and syringes for injecting drugs. This is because it is difficult to find fresh needles for every injection.
Sharing used needles or reusing needles has great potential to spread diseases like HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and more.
Clean needle programs are one public effort combating needle sharing in homeless populations. These programs encourage drug users to exchange their old, used needles for fresh, clean needles at clean needle locations.
These exchanges help limit diseases from spreading. Removing used needles from the general environment is still a serious issue.
Hospitals and clinic offices have designated biohazard and sharps containers. Homeless individuals do not have a secure means of needle disposal.
Needles often end up on the ground. When people leave needles on the ground, there is no way to tell if they are clean or if they are carrying infectious diseases. People should never throw needles away in the trash where they will enter public landfills.
The only way to properly dispose of used needles is to incinerate them. Professional cleaning companies like HCI have access to these incinerators. We have all of the proper tools needed for safely collecting used needles.
In addition to handling needles, professional cleaning companies prepare to tackle other dangerous bodily fluids. Homeless camps can be common sites for physical violence, injury, and even death. Blood is a serious biohazard that should only ever be cleaned by professionals.
Other bodily fluids presenting a biohazard include urine, feces, semen, and vomit. If they are contained at all, these fluids are usually left in open buckets or containers. Homeless people do not have access to plumbing or even running water.
More often than not, items in homeless camps are covered in feces, urine, and vomit. These items must be thrown away to protect the community. When you set foot in a homeless encampment, you are placing yourself in direct exposure to these bodily fluids.
HCI Environmental is a professional cleaning company with access to the proper attire. All employees use gloves and hazmat suits as appropriate to protect the community from disease.
Pests and Parasites
Other issues at homeless camps abound, making regular clean-ups necessary. People who are not homeless often take things like refrigerators for granted. Without proper refrigeration and with few ways to store and cook food, rotting food becomes a serious issue at homeless camps.
Of course, rotting food attracts company. Rats, mice, and roaches carry diseases and parasites that are easily spread through food in homeless camps.
During clean-ups, professional crews have found tents and bedding soiled with rat droppings. Some are infested with roaches. Items like this are, of course, deemed unfit for human use and thrown away during a homeless camp clean-up.
Filthy bedding, tents, and clothing exacerbate skin conditions for homeless people. Without proper access to bathing, lice, fleas, and parasitic worms will easily take hold in hair and skin.
The general public, volunteers, and city workers are not equipped to handle a true infestation. Parasites can spread quite easily between humans.
Homeless campsite clean-ups inspire change in our community and beyond. More and more cities are turning to site clean-ups to change their environments. The beneficial effects like these below are reaching far and wide.
Encouraging Homeless Outreach
More and more cities are turning to professional cleaning companies. Companies like HCI handle the removal of waste and homeless camp biohazards.
Not only does this help the general cities to maintain public health and appearance, but it aids the homeless. It helps them in staying healthy and finding community resources.
After biohazard cleaning, community volunteers are able to safely talk to homeless individuals. They don't have to worry so much about infection. Volunteers can devote more time, energy, and resources towards feeding and housing the homeless.
Investing in Communities
Scheduling a homeless site clean-up or removal with HCI Environmental is an investment in your community. Homeless camp clean-up protects the environment, plants, and animals. It keeps them safe from exposure to garbage, biohazards, disease, and hazardous chemicals.
Imagine a pristine, clean, city free from trash, tents, and other eyesores. This dream city is possible, one clean-up at a time.
Cleaning also helps homeless people to stay safe and physically healthy. It prevents them from facing more issues in addition to poverty, drug addiction, or mental health problems. Homeless people can still become valuable contributors to their communities.
Removing the campsite crutch encourages homeless people to seek help. They will find resources for mental health issues, drug abuse, and unemployment.
Community resources will be able to access homeless people where they are not secluded in woods and under bridges. Countless homeless people die every winter due to freezing temperatures.
A change of scene can truly change your life. Even being forced to relocate can have positive effects on anyone who is willing to make personal changes.
Homeless people are more likely to meet new people if they move. They will make connections for employment and housing if they can get away from their current situation.
How HCI Environmental Can Help You
HCI offers a variety of professional cleaning services, including homeless camp clean-ups. We've been assisting in cleaning up homeless camps for over 15 years in California. All of our services are in compliance with California's State Legislation.
Are you concerned about a homeless camp near you? Has the overpass started to look like a city of its own? Are you looking for a qualified professional cleaning service to remove potential biohazards? Check out our page on homeless camp clean-ups.
HCI employees are thoroughly trained in the collection and disposal of biohazards, chemicals, trash, and more. We offer the collection, transportation, and destruction of hazardous and bio hazardous materials. We also offer Covid-19 decontamination and 40-hour HAZWOPER.
To learn more about HCI services or to get a quote for a homeless encampment cleanup, contact us today.