Homeless people and scores of activists protested as city crews arrived Friday for a cleanup at Echo Park Lake, publicly calling on Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell to meet with them and work out a deal allowing them to remain at the park.
If the city ejects the encampment, “it’s like breaking up a family,” said Davon Brown, who said he has lived in the Echo Park encampment for four months. “This is not a cleanup. This is a homeless eviction.”
Tents have become a familiar sight in the northern corner of the park surrounding Echo Park Lake. The homeless encampment has been a frustration to some Echo Park neighbors and become a cause for others.
When sanitation workers and park rangers showed up Friday morning, protesters blocked a pathway in front of a city truck, sat on flattened tarps and stood guard by tents, demanding that workers spare tents and other belongings.
Many residents of the homeless encampment had already moved their tents to a sidewalk across the street before the crews arrived, but a few tents remained standing as the cleanup began.
At times, protesters began chanting, “Fight, fight, fight! Housing is a human right!” or argued with city workers, surrounded by reporters and activists holding up smartphones to record them. One woman shouted as a crew of sanitation workers moved on, “Where are people supposed to go? This is where they live.”
Chief park ranger Joe Losorelli said that no one was being “evicted” from the park, as the activists had asserted, and that they were simply cleaning up trash, “something that we do in every city park every single day.” Losorelli said the protests had not stopped them from doing that work.
“We’re going to continue to address the things that are happening here, like the drinking, the smoking marijuana, the things that the community are concerned with ... It cannot be ignored,” Losorelli said.
As city workers began to leave the park, Jed Parriott, a Street Watch L.A. organizer, said it “feels like we won the day” because tents had not been tossed out.
“But this is just one day,” Parriott said.
At one point, Brown and another resident of the encampment, Ayman Ahmed, spoke with LAPD Cmdr. Vito Palazzolo, saying that as they awaited a meeting with the councilman, they were willing to keep their tents down during the day and comply with cleanups twice a month if they could be spared from citations for being in the park late at night, end “unpredictable and frequent raids or sweeps,” and get warnings before any citations for “minor infractions.”
Palazzolo said the Police Department didn’t authorize cleanups and that he could not agree to not enforce an existing law. (Under the Municipal Code, people are generally not allowed to stay in parks between 10:30 p.m. and 5 a.m.) Police did, however, say they would avoid coming out late at night to talk to people about the rules.
Brown was unsatisfied by their answers. “It’s the same thing all over again,” he said.
Lloyd Edward, another resident who lives in the encampment along Echo Park Lake, said he had been on a waiting list for housing for six months. “What am I supposed to do in the meantime?” said Edward, who said he had been homeless for roughly two years. “I have no choice but to be outside.”
In their letter to O’Farrell, who represents the area, residents of the homeless encampment offered up a pact: They would keep the park clean, be respectful to neighbors and comply with cleanups that fall in line with activist demands. In return, they asked to not be harassed, intimidated or subjected to excessive or unpredictable cleanups, among other requests.
An O’Farrell spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter. In a news release, his office called the Friday cleanup “a regular maintenance day.”
“All city parks must be kept clean, safe, and accessible for people of all ages and income levels,” O’Farrell said. “People who are experiencing homelessness at Echo Park Lake will continue to be offered services while we work on securing temporary indoor shelter and ultimately permanent housing.”
O’Farrell noted in a recent motion that a pilot program to allow people to park and sleep in their cars at a nearby library was about to launch, said his office had been partnering with a local business to offer laundry services and clean bedding, and invoked plans to build permanent housing for homeless people just up the street from Echo Park Lake.
Some neighbors have been irritated by the encampment: In recent weeks, nearby resident Mike Hughes stopped by to show his support for a cleanup, complaining about trash and fighting at the park.
“Seeing this gathering of tents is somewhat of an eyesore,” Hughes said. “It’s not really what the park was intended for.”
Other Echo Park residents, however, have joined with people living in the homeless encampment to argue against any crackdown. Clarendon Johnston, who lives in Echo Park, said he was alarmed by escalating enforcement in recent weeks and wanted O’Farrell to meet and listen to the concerns of people living in the park.
“It’s a ‘boots on the ground’ kind of thing,” Johnston said. “Understand what services he needs to provide.”
O’Farrell recently introduced a proposal to allocate more than $500,000 for “a six month activation of emergency measures to address basic hygiene needs at Echo Park Lake.”
He also released a proposal Friday to temporarily allow 24-hour access to the restrooms in the northwest corner of the park, “in order to address urgent hygiene and public health needs.” And the councilman announced Friday evening that he would provide mobile showers, fund a storage unit, and set up an “interim emergency shelter” in the area.
“This crisis is a call to action for all Angelenos,” O’Farrell said.