‘Unsanitary and unsafe’

Long Beach homeless services, Union Pacific Railway partner to clean up railroads in 8th District


Courtesy Al Austin's office

Multiple Long Beach entities and Union Pacific recently concluded a month-long clean-up operation along Union Pacific’s railways in the eighth district.

Multiple Long Beach entities and Union Pacific recently concluded a month-long clean-up operation along Union Pacific’s railways in the eighth district.

Folks who opened 8th District Councilmember Al Austin’s newsletter on Feb. 7 came across before-and-after photos of the district’s railroad tracks littered with tattered furniture, cots and multiple piles of garbage lining Union Pacific’s right-of-way alleys between South St. and Candlewood Ave.–– private property where the City does not have jurisdiction.

Joel Reynoza, homeless-resource coordinator with the City’s Multi-Service Center–– a one-stop shop for homeless services–– spoke to the Signal Tribune about the living conditions of homeless individuals camping out along the clean-up area.

“They were [in] pretty unsanitary and unsafe conditions to be living in,” he said. “There was, you know, fire hazards, a lot of debris and a lot of trash–– just unsafe conditions for people to be in.”

Four outreach workers, a public health nurse and an outreach coordinator trekked into the right-of-way areas to make contact with the homeless that camped along the tracks. They were supported by members of the Long Beach Fire Department’s Homeless Education and Response Team (HEART).

It was not immediately clear how many individuals they made contact with, but Reynoza said about five of them accepted shelter stays and one was permanently housed.

The City has mentioned multiple times that the homeless crisis is the biggest challenge the city and the state face.

Homeless individuals often find shelter among downtown’s buildings, freeway underpasses in the west side and along the railroads in the north.

“I have been working to bring Union Pacific to the table for some time to address the homeless encampments along the railroad tracks, which primarily run through my district,” Councilmember Austin said.

To address the issue, the City partnered with Union Pacific about a year and a half ago to conduct blight clean ups on their private property.

Union Pacific leases the right of way zones from a joint partnership between the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, in which Union Pacific is responsible for maintaining the tracks.

The City of Long Beach does not have jurisdiction to just go on the tracks and take enforcement actions. The initial engagement needs to come from Union Pacific.

“After a series of discussions and meetings, Union Pacific agreed in mid-2019 to participate in a multi-jurisdictional task force, along with several City departments and Los Angeles County to coordinate enforcement and outreach efforts,” Austin said.

Multiple sweeps have taken place since the partnership formed. During the sweeps, homeless outreach workers offered services to the people experiencing homelessness, and cleaned out the encampments.

It was not immediately clear if more clean-up operations were slated for this year. Reynoza said Union Pacific had to make the decision to conduct one first.

Austin noted in this newsletter that he is “working to improve the responsiveness of Union Pacific to clean-up along its right-of-way.”

“This partnership is essential for the safety of those on the tracks,” Austin said. “As well as the safety and well-being of the residents in neighborhoods adjacent to the railroad.”