Corralling Scavengers At USC

The littered aftermath of the L.A. Times Festival of Books represented a goldmine for the many scavengers who consider the USC campus their workspace.

These people dig through trash bins and trash bags, picking out glass and plastic containers that they can exchange for cash at recycling centers. After talking with a couple of USC administrators, it’s clear USC wants to leave these people alone. While they might be causing a temporary blow to USC’s “bucolic” image, they are, after all, doing a positive service. But this whole system could be better-managed and could give the university a huge PR lift.

USC plans to transform its northwestern corner. There will be a new health center, new apartments and new University Village complex. What if there were a community shelter as well? Instead of letting people wander through campus and pan-handle on the edges of it, the university could be a steward in providing them temporary care, food and housing in a place designed just for them.

The area could be initially funded by the developers and contractors (Caruso, Tutor or whoever jumps in on the project), managed by the School of Social Work (which is probably looking for someone to buy its naming rights anyway), safeguarded by DPS and staffed by students.

It’s my understanding that USC has some interest in creating its own recycling operation. This complex could put many of those people to work–doing the same thing they would unregulated in campus–in a supervised environment. Call them independent contractors and you wouldn’t have to worry about a lot of the liability issues.

Below, I feature one of South L.A.’s scavengers and explain the debate between whether consumers should leave the dirty work of recycling up to someone else.

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