Keeping it clean: Protesters cope with sanitation

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Although protesters formed a sanitation committee from the start, hygiene issues have gotten more complicated than Occupy LA organizers anticipated.

The camp is largely well kept, although numerous trash bins around the site were overflowing during recent visits. Organizers pay a private hauler $57 a week to collect the rubbish daily after being fined by the city for failing to remove trash.

As the scent of marijuana wafted in the air and drumbeats sounded in a steady rhythm, organizers roamed the camp, urging people to pick up their trash and not to walk barefoot. Most people complied and some pitched in. Alcala seized a large palm frond and swept concrete walkways.

Protesters said overall, people were careful about rubbish. “I smoke and I’m really conscious about not throwing my butts on the ground,” said another camper, John Waiblinger.

Personal hygiene has been a more difficult issue.

Many people use showers at homeless shelters in Skid Row, while some have organized bathing trips to homes, said organizer Gia Trimble.

Others said they used the camp showers on site, filling up a plastic bag with solar-heated water or hot water from a City Hall faucet. The bag, which has a tube to spray the water, hangs from a cord.

“I use the solar-heated shower or even those moist towelettes,” Alcala said. “We’re clean here.”

Campers said they weren’t worried about illnesses. Nevertheless, some were taking commonsense precautions.

Tommy Schacht, who was brushing his teeth with bottled water on a recent morning, said he goes home to shower and change clothes, and mostly used bathrooms at nearby businesses or public facilities instead of the portable toilets on site.

“I don’t worry about that at all, but I try to stay away from people that are dirty,” he said.

Some campers’ clothing was visibly grubby, although others said they went to friends’ homes or Laundromats to do laundry.

Food handling has posed other problems.

The camp shut down its food tent, where volunteers made everything from sandwiches to a tabouli-type salad in blenders, after inspectors noted that it was not in compliance with food handling laws.

Now, donated prepared foods, ranging from cookies to packaged sandwiches, are distributed. Most campers make their own meals, heating up Ramen noodles, canned soup and refried beans on small gas-powered camp stoves.

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