A recent outbreak of flea-borne typhus has only heightened tensions around property seizure on Skid Row.

The latest outbreak—now considered an epidemic—is part of a growing trend in the area. In 2018 there have already been 63 cases of typhus in Los Angeles county, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

Typhus typically occurs in areas of poor sanitation and overcrowding, which is common in neighborhoods where our homeless neighbors reside. The most recent strand of the disease is spread by fleas and passed along by animals that surround homeless encampments, such as rats, dogs and feral cats.

To address the crisis, health officials have approved an emergency plan for treatment and increased sanitation efforts, including trash cleanups around encampments. This includes property seizure, a hot topic this month.

The 2016 lawsuit Mitchell vs. City of Los Angeles is finally going to court in February 2019. It addresses existing enforcement of sidewalk cleanups and has resulted in a temporary injunction that prevents city workers and police from seizing property without notice or retrieval options. Plaintiffs site that items like medicine and documents have been taken—these losses can endanger physical health, heighten mental health issues and further hampering our homeless neighbors from moving forward in their lives.

However, other residents in the area complain of the problems caused by massive accumulations of unsanitary belongings that affect the stores, sidewalks, and sometimes the health of other members of the neighborhood. The typhus outbreak is just one of these issues.

This is not an easy problem to solve and requires a multi-pronged approach that addresses the immediate health crisis, sanitary conditions, protection of essential personal belongings, and long-term housing and rehabilitation. It remains to be seen how city officials will resolve these immediate concerns and if the solutions will help or exacerbate the underlying issues.

United Way works with numerous local partners in order to address the multiple issues that affect the housing crisis. Our efforts to unite forces and work with local leaders has allowed us to help provide housing and critical supportive services to tens of thousands of our homeless neighbors.

If you’d like to support our impact, consider joining United Way’s Everyone In™ coalition or donating to United Way’s work. Visit EveryoneInLA.org and UnitedWayLA.org for more information.