Echo Park Homeless Camp Protests Target Los Angeles Police

Los Angeles officials said they intend to shut down a homeless camp in Echo Park on Thursday after a night of protests when workers erected fences and authorities ordered camp residents to leave.

More than 200 protesters gathered in the park Wednesday night and Thursday morning in a tense standoff with police over the future of the camp, which has become a flash point in the long-running homeless crisis. from the city.

The camp has drawn the ire of residents and the city has agreed to transfer those living in the park to hotels. But some residents say they prefer to stay in the park and argue that they have the right to do so.

Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said Wednesday night that homeless residents inside the park would be allowed to stay overnight, but that no one else would be able to enter, and camp residents must leave within the 24 hours.

A protester lies on the street in front of LAPD officers in Echo Park

Members of Urban Alchemy help Jason Reynolds and his dog, Bubba, with their belongings after they were evicted from Echo Park.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

There was a large police presence Wednesday night as authorities began the process of closing the park.

When skirmishes broke out, police were seen pushing some protesters; Bottles and other objects were thrown at the officers. Protesters chanted: “Whose park? Our park! and, “Why are you in riot gear? I don’t see any disturbances here! ”

Rangers, flanked by LAPD officers, began taping closure notices on trees and lamp posts on the east side of the park, where homeless people have been camping during the COVID-19 pandemic. The signs said the park would close Thursday and advised that all personal property must be removed, “including, but not limited to, tents, chairs, tables, backpacks, bags and personal items.”

A protester sets up a tent on the street

A protester sits in a tent set up on the street next to Echo Park on Wednesday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

City contractors protected by LAPD agents unloaded the fences from the flatbed trucks. The reflectors helped guide his work as they hit the fence panels on the ground. Once it was up, the workers unfolded the green cloth and hung it along the fence.

In a statement, Los Angeles police called the protest “largely peaceful.”

“After expressing their 1st Amendment rights, all protesters voluntarily left the area,” the statement said. Los Angeles police made only one arrest. Nicole Partori, 26, was cited and released for failing to obey an order to disperse and shine a light in the eyes of an officer. Additionally, two minor uses of force have been reported, he said.

There were no reports of injuries to protesters or the public, and no officers were injured, he said.

On Thursday morning, a small number of people woke up inside the fenced park, worried about what was to come.

“I feel like I’m being stopped,” said David Busch-Lilly, who was among more than a dozen people who remained inside the fenced park when dawn broke Thursday. “If I go, I don’t trust them to let me in.”

Valerie Zeller likened it to “a hostage situation.”

The homeless woman said she was reluctant to go to the hotel rooms that had been offered to people camping in the park, and said she had heard that residents would be searched and subject to curfews.

Yellow tape circled the blocks surrounding the park, where police patrol cars prevented people from driving or walking into the area. Inside the fenced park, the morning chatter of birds and geese mingled with the whine of a helicopter overhead.

Ayman Ahmed, who lives in the park, said that when police told them they could stay until the next night, “we thought it was a victory.”

“Was it a victory?” I ask. “Twenty-four hours with a perimeter around us?”

Another homeless man in a gray cap, who declined to give his name, said camp residents hope to get some kind of legal permission to stay, per the “shelter-in-place” guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic.

He did not want to address “any government-provided facility,” saying, “I just don’t like taking anything from the government.”

Still, the man said, “all these hopes we have about intervention from above are somewhat measured.”

“We are expecting to be busy to jump, if we have to,” he said.

Gustavo Otzoy, who said he had lived along the lake for seven months, said he had to go to work today, but did not want to abandon his tools, construction tools to install tile, drywall and hardwood floors, to not lose them.

“I need these things to work,” he said in Spanish. Beyond that concern, he said: “I want to be with my community.”

“At first I was scared when I got here. But no one stole from us. Everything was good. “

As the sun rose in the sky on Wednesday, Urban Alchemy workers dressed in black and green jackets approached the dwindling number of camp residents to ask if they wanted to go to a hotel.

“I heard that a lot of people who have been going are taking the penthouse suite,” said one worker.

“We’ll see what happens,” replied a man in a zebra-print mask. He said he had heard troubling things about the hotel’s program: open doors for “random checks” that deprived people of privacy; restrictive curfews; room keys are not allowed.

“It changes their right to freedom,” he said.

Later, the workers approached Otzoy, who asked if he would get storage space for his construction tools.

An Urban Alchemy worker assured her they could store her things and said the room would be a step toward permanent housing.

“You’re going?” asked the worker.

Otzoy objected. “Not now,” he told the worker.

“The truth is that I don’t trust that,” he said in Spanish as the workers advanced. “And today I want to be here to support everyone.”

Others had already decided to leave before the crackdown began.

On Wednesday night, Edward Juárez dismantled a tent on the east side of the park as dozens of officers gathered on the other side of the street. Juárez and others who live in the park must leave before 10:30 p.m. Thursday, according to the posted signs.

Juárez, a professional photographer who has lived in the park since August, said the tent belonged to a friend who had been set up at a hotel in downtown Los Angeles last week. Juárez said he lost his livelihood when the pandemic shut down the concerts and other late-night events he worked at. He planned to spend the night somewhere else, perhaps on Calle Alvarado or at a friend’s house.

“I just want to get out of here, he’s freaking out,” he said, nodding at the officers wearing helmets and truncheons across the street.

Juarez said police arrived at the park last week and said the city planned to clear the area, although they did not tell him when the raid would occur.

“It is what it is,” he said. “What else are you going to do?”

When protests broke out on the west side of the park, senior officials from the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority moved across the dimly lit and quiet eastern edge of the park in search of the 30 to 50 homeless people. that they estimate are left.

They found a couple who took the opportunity to go to a downtown hotel and quickly called them Lyft.

A homeless woman sits in her tent in Echo Park Wednesday night.

A homeless woman sits in a tent next to Echo Park Lake Wednesday night.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“Let’s meet at your store. We have to decide what to do with their stuff, ”LAHSA CEO Heidi Marston told one of her colleagues as they waited for them to leave.

Marston was angry with the way the park closure had been implemented and communicated to the homeless. They needed time and ample warning before something like this could happen, he said.

“It’s about setting expectations, being clear and giving them options,” Marston said. That was not possible here, he said. The couple who arrived at a hotel were the only people who wanted to go on Wednesday night. I was hoping there were more on Thursday.

“If you are going to close the park, be clear. It doesn’t mean we have to take people by surprise, ”he said. “It eases fear, chaos and breaks the trust we build. It seems like it didn’t need to happen this way. “

Over the past year, the camp had grown to almost 200 tents and covered almost half of the park, becoming a society similar to a commune with a shared pantry, a garden, a varnish of self-control, and a tenuous understanding of basic sanitation. It has divided the surrounding Echo Park community and become a case study of the conflicts that arise in Los Angeles neighborhoods over rights to public spaces and the competing interests of the housed and the non-housed.

Some residents of the surrounding hillsides demanded that the city do something about trash intrusion, drug use and crime.

Early Thursday morning, the police blocked the park and did not allow anyone to enter.

Police on duty on Glendale Avenue during a protest in Echo Park.

An LAPD officer stands on Glendale Avenue during Wednesday’s protest in Echo Park.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Extension workers have been searching as many people who live in the park as possible and taking them to hotels rented by the city for the homeless.

“You define a sweep as moving someone indoors to a safe and clean environment where they will be provided healthy and free meals, receive medical care and a path to wellness, then you can call it what you want,” said the city councilor of Los Angeles, Mitch O’Farrell said Wednesday. “Because this is what we are doing for everyone who has been there for the last few weeks or months.”

But SELAH’s Neighborhood Homeless Coalition demanded Wednesday night that the closure be postponed so that residents “have time to meaningfully connect with service providers who are working tirelessly to serve them.”

When Moore announced that no one would be evicted Wednesday night, protesters said they saw it as a victory. But more protests are expected on Thursday.

Times staff writers James Queally and Kevin Rector contributed to this report.

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