VAN NUYS, Calif. - The trash service operation on Skid Row has neighborhood council representative Wendell Blassingame left with questions about why certain trash cans weren't emptied.
“They just left this less than a minute ago, or 45 seconds. They didn't pull the bag. The trash still left in the can,” said Blassingame.
“The most dangerous thing is a bottle in Skid Row that can do a lot of damage to somebody,” he added, looking down at a discarded bottle.
But it's not just the bottles that are threat. It's the trash-lined streets that bring out the rats and other vermin that carry dangerous diseases, affecting not only the homeless, but everyone who walks these streets.
Across town in Van Nuys, Don Larson decided to champion the idea of keeping his own community clean six years ago when he started Clean Streets Clean Starts.
The idea behind the initiative is to enlist homeless people in the area to beautify their own community.
“I saw this as a way to change [things by offering] a change to people in this condition," said Larson.
He started the program on his own in Northridge, but now receives funding from five different cities to help pay for the gift card stipends he gives to workers.
"It helps with their immediate needs of gas and food,” said Larson.
One of those he’s helped is Keith Russell, who used to be homeless. He's worked with Larson for a few years now and gives credit to the program for getting his life back on track.
“It's exciting and I mean, this is something that I live for," said Russell. "I wake up for this, I wake up for it every day. It's like it was my calling.”
Russell also serves as a community lead in the Van Nuys area and he says that recruiting other homeless people is a key component to the work as well.
“[We] bring soap, toothpaste, whatever water, food out here to them. Just to let them know that someone's out here for them. We’re going to keep doing it,” said Russell.
Larson said that he has hopes that the program can grow and be replicated all throughout the county.
“Once you start, you got it going. Everybody in the community will come to you and go, 'well thank you for cleaning up and thank you for doing something with these people getting them motivated again,'" said Larson.