While cleaning up a homeless encampment’s tents off of a public sidewalk, San Diego city workers managed to scoop up a homeless man into a garbage truck. Thankfully, they heard his screams and didn’t start the hydraulic trash compactor.
According to a report in the San Diego Union-Tribune, “Shrieking came from inside the jumble of tents and bedding and personal belongings scooped off the street. Arms started flailing and the screams grew louder. In what can only be described as a jaw-dropping blunder, a homeless person scrambled out of a San Diego city trash truck and avoided being crushed to death by mere seconds.” The report went on to say, “According to city officials, who confirmed the events from last month after being questioned by The San Diego Union-Tribune, the individual walked away before work crews could offer assistance — or even collect a name and other information.”
The abatements are sidewalk-cleanup efforts that entail removing property left on the street, usually by homeless people. In recent years, block after block of some downtown San Diego neighborhoods have become makeshift camps for a population of homeless people that has swelled past 9,000.
The trash and lack of sanitation contributed to a hepatitis A outbreak last year that killed 20 people and sickened almost 600 before the public-health emergency was declared over this week.
Under a settlement reached in 2011 and approved by a federal judge, San Diego is required to follow specific steps before, during and after the cleanups — protocols that appear to have fallen short in this case.
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that at least one person may have already lost her job over this barely averted tragedy.
A senior official of San Diego’s Environmental Services Department was escorted out of City Hall on Friday, days after the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that city workers mistakenly placed a homeless person into the back of a trash truck during a December cleanup effort.
Angela Colton, 42, who rose to the post of deputy director of the department in 17 years with the city of San Diego, declined to discuss her departure from City Hall when reached Monday.
While it’s important for municipalities to ensure the cleanliness of sidewalks and streets, they need to make sure that they aren’t harming people in the process. San Diego appears to be taking their failure seriously.