Tourists flock to Los Angeles for the glitz and glamor of Hollywood and the freshness of Malibu beaches. But across Los Angeles, in neighborhoods including Echo Park, residential streets are littered with mountains of garbage.
“There’s a way that I can organize and draw people together to help and, at the same time, help myself and the other people in the community with loneliness,” Fein said. “A situation where we could get together and be outside so we could feel a little bit safer to be together and work on a community issue.”
EPTC meets twice a month on Sundays to clean up streets across Echo Park. The group’s mission is to help keep their neighborhood clean while also being sensitive to the complicated issue of houselessness in Los Angeles, especially the large degree of trash buildup around encampments.
Fein said being in a large city has allowed EPTC to work on multiple occasions, especially on private property on Alvarado in Echo Park, subjected to illegal dumping.
“The amount of dumping that was going on there seeping into the streets, seeping into the ground, spilling into places where people walk and live, it’s dangerous,” Fein said.
Fein said many areas could produce hazardous smells, infestations, and diseases, affecting the nearby community.
“The reality is, there’s just no infrastructure for trash servicing in certain areas,” Fein said. “There’s also not enough permanent housing available in Los Angeles for the number of residents.”
The EPTC works to reduce pollution in Echo Park and helps the unhoused population living near trash-filled areas. Fein said trash frequently accumulates and ends up “festering” without being removed, so EPTC takes on the task.
“If they have items they don’t want there, we will take those,” Fein said. “So sometimes somebody had an old couch that was once maybe usable, and it is no longer usable. We’ll take that. So there is a political side to the group: we try to offer what we refer to as compassionate trash removal.”
Another community organization working on the trash pile-ups in their community is the Lincoln Heights Trash Club, founded by Liz Gardner. She said she was inspired to start the club during the pandemic because of the accumulation of trash she saw throughout her neighborhood and major streets.
“I just couldn’t help but notice that on a day-to-day basis on my commute, and when I would walk around … it was just hard to ignore,” Gardner said. “But the bottom line was that I felt compelled to beautify the neighborhood again and give people the community space they deserve.”
While cleaning trash, the organizations foster a sense of community for its volunteers to improve their surroundings. Both groups gained recognition for their efforts from their communities. Often as the groups collect trash, they will receive honks of appreciation from cars passing by, motivating them to keep on going.
Adam Laiben, an EPTC volunteer for two years, said cleaning neighborhoods makes him feel more connected to his city, but in these efforts, he is reminded of the housing crisis.
“It just feels good to give back and do something simultaneously. We shouldn’t have to do this,” Laiben said. “The city should have things set in order that should be picking up that trash. There should be jobs that do that, and they should pay well enough that people can sustain those jobs and have housing.”
Eliza Sanchez, a volunteer of EPTC for the past two years, said she was inspired to join the club because she saw all the trash discarded in her neighborhood and wanted to do something about it.
When Sanchez and other EPTC volunteers met for trash collections, she said she felt like “a kid excited to go on a field trip.”
“Being outside and having a shared goal — that ultimately, to me, feels like a community,” Sanchez said. “So I felt inspired and at home in a way.”
Sanchez first discovered EPTC on Instagram and kept her eye on them to reassure her that they aligned with what she was looking to do for her community. She said she felt there was space for her in that group, and she’s been going back ever since.
“Sometimes sanitation servicing isn’t equitable in various neighborhoods, often for a multitude of intersectional reasons,” Sanchez said. “But there are communities and neighborhoods that have higher volumes, perhaps of unhealthy folks living there, and just because that’s the case doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be equitable trash service things happening there.”
Many local volunteers are tired of seeing these pileups in their community, feeling their work is a substitute for the city.
“We hope, like many nonprofits say, that one day we don’t have to exist,” Laiben said. “Where there isn’t any trash pickup, or if there is, then it’s a duty of the city, and those tax dollars are used for that.”
Alexis Nunez is a 2023 High School Insider Summer Intern. This story and other High School Insider intern stories are supported by the Jack & Denny Smith Memorial Fund for Literacy.