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Police Met by Protesters Ahead of Shutdown at Echo Park Lake Homeless Encampment

Los Angeles police surrounded Echo Park Thursday morning and city contractors built fences along the south and east end of the park north of downtown Los Angeles after a confrontation hours earlier over the clearing of a homeless encampment.

A large group of protesters left the area following hours of protest against plans to clear a large homeless encampment from the park and close the area for what’s being described as more than $500,000 in repairs. The LAPD arrested one person for failing to comply with an officer’s orders in what remained a largely peaceful demonstration, police said

Repairs and cleanup work will continue Thursday.

A citywide tactical alert — a designation that allows the police department to better deploy resources for major events — put into effect by the Los Angeles Police Department late Wednesday night ended at about 1:20 a.m. The order was issued about 10:50 p.m. and video from the scene showed protesters pushing back against officers who moved to clear the area so the fence could be placed.

Video from the scene showed dozens of Los Angeles Police Department vehicles and officers in streets around the park with protesters, some with bullhorns, yelling at officers. The Los Angeles Times reported shortly after 10 p.m. a line of officers was moving toward the protesters and people moved to the side.

According to the Echo Park Recreation Center, the park is scheduled to close Thursday, but the time was not confirmed.

David Busch-Lilly has called the park home since August. He described the dilemma faced by working people who live at the park. 

“Do I have to pay 50, 60 percent of my monthly income to housing, or do I end up in a long line with a 10-year wait for affordable housing in Los Angeles?” said Busch-Lilly.

About 9:40 p.m. Wednesday, park rangers began posting closure notices that included a message that all personal property must be removed from the park.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell issued a statement at 10:05 p.m. that “the Los Angeles Police Department was asked to support community safety efforts during installation of the fencing to assist in the rehabilitation of Echo Park.

“Department personnel are deployed in that area so that those efforts can begin in a safe and unimpeded manner.

“Our homeless service providers will return tomorrow morning to continue their work with the park’s unhoused residents to offer shelter and services to anyone who wants and needs the assistance.”

People who gathered Wednesday morning blasted the city for efforts to force the homeless out of an area that has grown into a supportive community. In the midst of the tents alongside the lake, a large sign read, “We refuse to be swept into dark corners.”

Although the city has said housing would be found, those gathered Wednesday morning had their doubts, with one saying there was “no guarantee” the city would find “somewhere safe” for people to live.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that he’s “been very, very impressed” by the number of park residents who have been placed into housing.

“I don’t see people being removed from the park,” O’Farrell said. “I see people being placed into housing.”

Garcetti claimed that though there are 120 tents left in the park, only 19 people were still living there as of last weekend, and that there is a safe hotel room available for every single person in the park.

“We’re asking all the folks — (the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority), Urban Alchemy, some of the other great nonprofits and volunteer groups — to continue helping to make sure 100% of people know there is a placement,” he said, adding that there is a small percent of people who decline placements.

Many protesters Wednesday morning carried signs with slogans such as “Services not sweeps” and “House keys, not handcuffs.”

A resident of the park called into the City Council meeting Wednesday to tell council members that the park’s residents are “tired of basically being treated like we’re nobodies.”

“We’re tired of being treated like we’re less than human all because of a pandemic and the consequences of the pandemic has caused a couple of people to lose their houses,” she said.

She added that housing is a human right.

Homeless advocates have argued that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against clearing encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic, because it could “cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”

O’Farrell told reporters during an unrelated news conference Tuesday that the city will follow all U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines when preparing the park for the renovation work, and efforts are being made to find housing for everyone who has been living there since January.

He did not provide details about what type of housing would be provided or when it would happen, but said the city previously housed more than 100 of the park’s residents. He said Wednesday morning that more than 120 people had now been moved into transitional housing, including Project Roomkey and Project Homekey sites.

“Our efforts to build relationships with the unhoused individuals at the Lake have been ongoing for months, taking much time, sensitivity and care. Our outreach workers must be able to continue engaging with the unhoused at the Lake — individuals who have asked for and want a safe, secure place to sleep each night,” O’Farrell said.

Participants in Wednesday morning’s protest gathered at the park, then marched to O’Farrell’s district office. There were no reports of any disturbances or arrests.

The group plans to hold a 24-hour vigil “to seek citywide cooperation and support in coming days to stop the shutdown of L.A.’s largest self-run homeless haven.”

The park’s homeless community — which includes a vegetable garden, working showers and a kitchen — has been praised by activists as a self-run, diverse community of housed and unhoused residents of the neighborhood.

“Echo Park Lake, situated on Tongva Land, has been a haven of this community since its development and should remain a free and accessible place for members of this community who need it for solace, leisure or survival,” Zarinah Williams, president of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council, said in a statement to City News Service.

“We do not feel that $500,000 in restorative landscaping is a priority endeavor given layered consequences of displacement and criminalization of our residents.”

According to O’Farrell’s office, the work will include repairs to damaged lighting and plumbing, removal of hazardous material and public safety improvements.

Several people called into Tuesday’s City Council meeting to speak about the move to close the park.

“I applaud the efforts of (the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority) to place folks into (Project Roomkey) sites, but as we all know, eligibility for the program is limited,” said Sachin Medhekar, organizing committee member for the SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition.

“I’m urging you to not displace the over 100 folks that reside at the lake, especially during this ongoing pandemic and to instead focus on connecting folks with a variety of services and housing options they deserve.”

A woman who identified herself as a resident of the Echo Park neighborhood said she supported the clearing of the park and closure for renovations.

“I personally have not visited the park in over a year because it doesn’t feel sanitary or safe,” she said. “I also worry that the $45 million investment the city made to rehabilitate the park is being wasted.”

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Source: NBC Los Angeles

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