LOS ANGELES (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom picked up litter and painted over graffiti in Los Angeles on Wednesday to highlight California’s $1.1 billion initiative to clean areas near highways, roads and other public spaces, an effort he promised to expand next year to address homeless encampments.
Before collecting syringes and broken electronics along a downtown freeway, Newsom returned to the nearby lot where he announced the Clean California plan last May. Previously piled with trash, it’s now a manicured park with benches, palm trees and a vegetable garden.
The California Department of Transportation, known as Caltrans, is spearheading cleanups at similar sites statewide where Newsom said 4,200 tons (3,810 metric tons) of trash has been collected since the program was launched.
At-risk youth and people who were formerly homeless or incarcerated have been given priority for the jobs created by the three-year initiative. Some 11,000 people have already been hired and many of them are working in neighborhoods where they live, which restores a “sense of community,” the governor said.
“Because once people feel connected to something, once they feel ownership to something, they are more apt to protect it, to preserve it,” he said.
The cleanup comes amid growing frustration with homeless encampments that have sprouted under highway overpasses and near freeway exit and entry ramps throughout California in the past few years. The encampments have grown during the coronavirus pandemic, and many are crammed with discarded sofas, mattresses and other trash.