Los Angeles officials have moved to evict a large homeless encampment from a major city park, sending police in riot gear to face off with unhoused residents and protesters supporting them.
Late Wednesday night, hundreds of demonstrators gathered at Echo Park Lake, a public park in central LA, to denounce the planned expulsion of hundreds of people who have been camping out there.
The park has become a major battleground in the city’s worsening housing and homelessness crisis during the pandemic. A growing number of homeless residents have have sought refuge at the park over the last year, と より多い 170 tents and makeshift structures set up as of this month.
Some residents who live in the neighborhood, which has rapidly gentrified, have increasingly complained to city officials and police, arguing that the encampment was unsafe and should be shut down. City leaders 発表 last fall that they would be closing the park for repairs in the new year, and that they would 提供 transitional housing to residents of the park. But as rumors have circulated that closure was imminent in recent weeks, they have repeatedly refused to provide details of when the encampments would be swept and what would happen to residents who refused to leave.
Supporters of the encampment have argued that temporary hotel rooms don’t provide a long-term solution and that some don’t want to leave the park, because they end up back on the streets with nowhere to go. Unhoused organizers have said that residents have built a safe community there that the city should not dismantle.
“I’m concerned that these people are going to be violently displaced,” said Albert Corado, a community organizer who was at the protests, noting that the encampment residents had built an organized community with a communal kitchen, a shower and other amenities. “There’s a sense of taking care of one another. What the city wasn’t providing for them, they provided for themselves.”
After protesters gathered at the park on Wednesday, the LA police department (LAPD), declared an “unlawful assembly” and ordered people to leave. LAPD 前記 encampment residents were allowed to stay temporarily on Wednesday night, but were “not allowed to come and go”. Officials gave them a 24-hour notice to leave, setting the stage for another possible showdown with police.
By Wednesday evening, hundreds of LAPD officers wearing helmets and holding batons had showed up to the park, leading to skirmishes between activists and police.
“We were definitely outnumbered by the police,” said Samantha Curley, a member of Street Watch LA, a group supporting the residents. “The city doesn’t care about vulnerable populations. It cares more about wealthy donors and housed folks who are inconvenienced by people living on public property. I don’t think you can overstate the amount of fear and stress and anxiety that this causes for folks living at the park.”
By Thursday, LA officials had installed a large fence around the park and closed surrounding streets. LAPD said in a statement the protest was “largely peaceful” and that police were supporting social service partners in providing housing, but that the park remained closed.
Mitch O’Farrell, the local councilman pushing the park closure, said that 120 residents of the park had moved into transitional housing and that service providers were on site to offer services. He said LAPD was deployed to “support community safety efforts”.
O’Farrell said in a statement that his office has identified housing options for everyone who has lived there since January, adding that closure was necessary: “Everyone who visits Echo Park Lake, including people experiencing homelessness, are at great risk in this dangerous environment.”
Heidi Marston, director of the Los Angeles homeless services authority, was at the park on Wednesday night and got one couple a Lyft to a hotel, according to the LA Times. She told a reporter she was frustrated with how the closure was rolled out and that it had created distrust and chaos.
But at a time when racial justice groups were pushing for the city of LA to redirect police money toward community programs and assisting those in need, advocates said it was disappointing to see the city invest significant resources to policing unhoused residents.
“The city is using the LAPD to make their priorities known,” said Ina Morton, an activist with the People’s City Council LA, who was at the park Wednesday night. “This was an especially strong show of force … We’re trying to help people stay in the only place they have to live right now, and we’re facing off with hundreds of armed police officers.”
In a statement on Thursday, residents from the Echo Park Tent Community said, “to Mitch O’Farrell, our demand is simply this: please continue to leave us alone, or stand with us … Stand in solidarity with all of your constituents, not just those with money and housing.”
Katherine Solow, a 64-year-old homeowner who has lived next to the park for more than 15 年, said she wished her neighbors would have more compassion.
“I have never in my life been harassed or bothered by anybody who lived at the lake. It’s a community. I knew many of them well enough to say good morning to them every day," 彼女は言いました, adding that she was upset by the police presence. “If you were living in a tent in the place that felt the safest to you and you couldn’t get work and you had untreated health and mental health problems, is this how you would like to be treated? We have to be better than this.”
She said she worried that displaced residents would end up sleeping under freeways or in more dangerous conditions.
As of January 2020, there were more than 66,000 homeless people in LA county, a 12% increase from the previous year. The pandemic and economic downturn have exacerbated the housing crisis, with tens of thousands of people behind on rent and nearly four people dying on the streets every day.