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Scavengers Could Lose Their Livelihood

West Hollywood City Council members are considering an across-the-board ban on digging through trash bins for recyclables, but some people rely on the redemption money for necessities.

Pushing his shopping cart down Santa Monica Boulevard, Carl Muldoon stops to dig through the circular blue trash bins at street corners to collect recyclables, which he exchanges for $10 at the end of each day.

A homeless man in his mid-50s, Muldoon has been scavenging through public trash bins in West Hollywood since the San Diego shelter he once called home was torn down eight months ago.

He longs to return home to Arizona, which he left three years ago in an attempt to escape the housing collapse and a lack of temporary work. For now, he redeems bottles and cans at the West Hollywood recycling center tucked behind an ARCO gas station on Santa Monica Boulevard and Curson Avenue to earn enough money for food, necessities and cigarettes.

Recycling center employee Ernie Lopez says residents get annoyed by people who show up in the early morning hours to dig through bins in residential neighborhoods and then crush cans to gather as many as possible. About 60 people are regular recyclers at his center, Lopez says, and they redeem an average of $60 a day.

Councilman Jeffrey Prang sponsored a motion in May on the matter, and the panel has directed the city attorney to draft a ordinance prohibiting persons from scavenging from all solid waste receptacles. Prang's deputy, Michael Haibach, said the issue is "being investigated internally" at West Hollywood City Hall.

Residents are concerned about identity theft and their personal safety, said Lauren Meister, president of the West Hollywood West Residents Association.

"I have seen people go up private driveways to get to bins. That is trespassing, which is illegal," she said. "We have compassion and we understand there are issues for homeless people. The issue we have with scavenging is that the people who are in our neighborhood are not homeless and they make a living out of it."

If a ban is enacted, "It's going to be all bad," said Ryan Abney, who used to be homeless. "Most of the people here [at the redemption center] that recycle are homeless."

Muldoon said he never steps foot on private property to collect recyclables and abides by laws that ban rummaging through homeowners' recycling bins. He's also in favor of residential trash bins that lock.

Muldoon does not seem fazed by the City Council's desire to ban scavenging altogether.

"Police have more to do than worry about someone digging through curbside trash cans," he said.

To view the City Council minutes about the proposed scavenging ordinance, click here.

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