In a grievance filed by the labor union that represents California’s highway maintenance workers, the Golden State is accused of subjecting the workers to hazardous conditions without providing appropriate training and equipment. Meanwhile, the cost imposed by homeless and their shanty towns is skyrocketing. Maintenance workers are encountering hostile denizens of the homeless camps, who sometimes confront the workers with rocks, fierce dogs, and weapons.
Currently, the number of homeless in California has topped 130,000 or about 25 percent of the total homeless in the United States. Clean up their messes surpassed $10 million in 2016-2017 -- a 324 percent increase over the previous year. An unidentified Caltrans worker told the Sacramento Bee said that the only protective equipment he has been given for his involvement in six such cleanups was a pair of gloves.“I’ve been exposed to blood, needles, women’s feminine products… five-gallon buckets of human feces,” he told The Sacramento Bee.
In the complaint filed by the International Union of Operating Engineers, director Steve Crouch stated, "It is the Union's contention that Caltrans is not ensuring that our members are being provided the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), necessary training, necessary vaccinations and proper compensation for the dangerous hazmat duties they are performing when cleaning up homeless encampments on State Caltrans property."
In an interview with KTVU news, Crouch said that Caltrans crews are responsible for filling potholes, trimming trees, and otherwise ensuring the smooth operation of the highways rather than cleaning up homeless camps. "Their job is to maintain the highways and freeways, you know, that's filling the potholes, that's doing the striping of the lines, that's doing the guardrails alone the edge, that's trimming the trees and shrubs and bushes along the highway," he said. "Their job is not to clean up homeless encampments.” Caltrans workers have also encountered live electric lines.
In an interveiw with Spero News, Crouch said that California's city and county authorities push the homeless out of their jurisdictions where they erect their camps under freeway overpasses and other Caltrans property. Crouch said that his fellow union members have said "Enough is enough" and with their grievance are seeking concessions from Caltrans. IOEU wants Caltrans to either hire independent contractors to remove the encampments or form specialized hazardous material teams among the Caltrans workers, while providing them with specialized training and equipment, as well as a pay differential.
Crouch said that removing the encampments involved more than mere use of heavy equipment such as bulldozers and bobcats. He said that dangeorus hypodermic needles and syringes must be carefully removed and placed in special containers, while human feces and urine must also be separated from the rest of the refuse and contained. The same is true with the feminine hygiene products that are found, Crouch said. "Imagine seeing a portable toilet turned upside down. That's what we see," he said.
In a statement to KTVU, Caltrans stated, "Safety is a top priority for Caltrans and we will carefully review the grievance."
According to Caltrans’s Mile Marker magazine, the agency has spent approximately $29.2 million in cleaning the camps since fiscal year 2012-13. Caltrans workers have found some 7,000 tramp camps on Caltrans property on California’s 254 state highways.
Cleaning up a tramp camp requires days for completion. Also, camps that have increasingly formed along the Capitol Corridor railway between San Francisco and Sacramento have caused delays and late arrivals. Trespassers who are killed by trains cause delays because of required investigations that can mean that trains are kept immobile on the tracks until given a go-ahead by a coroner. In March, a homeless person was found living on top of an Amtrak station in northern California.
In Orange County, California, officials hauled away tons of trash, hazardous waste, and excrement from a tramp camp along a riverbed in Anaheim. Contractors descended on the camp in February and remove 250 tons of trash, 1,100 pounds of human waste, and 5,000 hypodermic needles, near Angel Stadium and just a few miles from Disneyland. 544 people were moved to taxpayer paid motels, shelters, and were given drug treatment, job training, and medical assistance.
Below is a photo of a tent that a homeless person had set up on top of the Amtrak station in Antioch, California.
Courtesy Antioch, California, police.