The Echo Park homeless camp is gone. What does it mean for Los Angeles?

When the city quickly fenced off Echo Park and pulled people out of a sprawling camp that had taken root along its picturesque lake, it was an extraordinary move in a city full of homeless camps.

Night crews rushed to erect a metal fence wrapped in green cloth around the park. The police descended and expelled the angry protesters. Outreach workers were dispatched to offer hotel rooms and other shelters to the homeless before the deadline to vacate the soon-to-close park approached.

Even some of the dwindling numbers of people staying at camp this week were surprised by the singular effort focused on Echo Park, as hundreds of homeless camps remain in other neighborhoods and parks. If the city claimed to be helping people, asked Isabel Castro, why were they concentrating so intensely on this camp?

“Go for a walk in MacArthur Park,” Castro urged this week outside his tent. “See if you really care about people.”

Crews look over a tent by Echo Park Lake, with the Los Angeles skyline in the background.

Task crews go through belongings left at the homeless camp during a clean-up at Echo Park on Friday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The uprooting of the Echo Park camp sparked protests and condemnation from the American Civil Liberties Union and even criticism from some within the City Council. On Thursday night, police arrested 182 protesters and briefly detained journalists, including an LA Times reporter.

But in some corners of the city, the neighbors were envious, wanting to know why the same movements had not been made in their neighborhoods. Progressive activists, in turn, fear that the aggressive tactic at Echo Park could turn into a playbook.

At a news conference Friday, Mayor Eric Garcetti framed the effort as a success and called it “the largest housing transition from a campground in the history of the city.” He suggested that, in some cases, it could be repeated.

“Nobody dreamed that we could house more than 200 people when they started,” said the mayor.

The clothes cover a bench, with tents and a small garden in the background.

Belongings left by homeless residents sit on a bench before cleanup at Echo Park on Friday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Councilman Joe Buscaino, who represents a district stretching from Watts to San Pedro, also praised Echo Park’s effort, saying in a written statement that the “intensive outreach approach followed by an ‘election date’ must become the standard if we are going to bring the people who live on our streets to a better situation. “

“We no longer have the luxury of waiting until people are ready,” Buscaino said.

In Venice, Brian Averill and his newly formed group are lobbying Councilor Mike Bonin to undertake a similar effort to eliminate a beachfront camp that has grown to more than 200 tents. “Venice is a tinderbox right now,” Averill said. “We need to see the city take some step to show that they are serious right now. We haven’t seen it. ”

The Venice Boardwalk Action Committee is proposing a four-week outreach program involving City of Los Angeles sanitation, county mental health, and Los Angeles Police Department to find accommodation for 250 people and then keep the beach clear of tents. Averill said the Echo Park closure could be a model, but said he hoped we would “learn from the mistakes that Councilman (Mitch) O’Farrell made there with the presence of the police.”

A shadow of a member of the task force is found on syringes and other items.

A member of the task force stands on syringes and other items that were left at the Echo Park camp on Friday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Venice resident Brian Lindner, who goes to his boardwalk regularly to bike and swim, said he became involved in such efforts after a drunken homeless man approached his daughter. The closure of Echo Park gave him some hope, he said, though he wondered if it would also push more homeless people into Venice.

In the case of the Venice Beach boardwalk, “can something like this happen to make it usable again?” I ask.

Echo Park Lake isn’t the first place Los Angeles has sought to clear a camp for the homeless, but it became a flash point for many reasons. Homeless activists defined the camp as a community and mobilized others, including Echo Park residents who are not homeless, to join their cause. Angelenos concerned about the camp, in turn, were emotionally invested in a beloved park that had undergone tens of millions of dollars in renovations years before.

“I’m not sure how many privileged Nextdoor residents desperately want to reclaim an alley in South Los Angeles,” said Bill Przylucki, CEO of the progressive group Ground Game LA. “Giving in to that pressure is part of how we got to the response that we saw.”

Two workers pull a sofa out of a tent in Echo Park.

Crews remove a sofa from a tent left by a homeless resident during a cleanup in Echo Park on Friday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Another factor is who leads the district council: O’Farrell, who represents the area, pushed the decision to temporarily close the park, arguing that it had become a chaotic and dangerous place where muggings and other criminal activity flourished. The closure would allow for repairs, he said.

“This situation was never intended to last indefinitely,” he said of the park’s camp. With the supply of hotel rooms and shelter beds, he said, “It is time to move on. And that is exactly what we are doing “.

Others on the council have criticized the move. “The sudden closure of the park, the massive presence of the LAPD, the use of force against protesters, the confinement of homeless people who were in the process of being placed in hotel shelters … none of that had to happen,” he said. Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who visited Echo Park amid the furor.

Meanwhile, some residents of his district said they were frustrated that Raman had not taken a similar action to remove a camp along Berendo Street in Hollywood, prompting complaints about illegal activities.

“She has time to show up for a photo shoot at Echo Park, but she can’t come down and meet the neighbors who have been asking for months to meet her face to face,” said Charlie Collins, who said he is part of a committee. concerned about the campgrounds in Los Feliz and Hollywood.

Two policemen go through boxes of water bottles and other belongings left behind.

LAPD Officer Adrián González, left, and Sgt. Matt Jacobs goes through belongings left during a cleanup at Echo Park on Friday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

A spokesperson for Raman said her staff have met regularly with Berendo residents and that the councilor visited the camp and arranged a Zoom meeting with neighbors.

In Boyle Heights, Veta Gashgai said he would like the city to do in Hollenbeck Park what it had done in Echo Park. A homeless camp has persisted there for years and has disabled the park’s toilets, Gashgai said.

“We want help for them, but they can’t just take over the park,” said Gashgai, who works with a group called Organized Blocks of Boyle Heights. He argued that all residents should be offered housing and that if they “choose not to go, they should be forced out.”

Some homeless people in other parts of the city said they envied the way protesters had gathered behind the Echo Park Lake camp. “When they kicked us out, there weren’t many people here,” said Tammy Vindiola, who said she had been kicked off a street in South Los Angeles. “The police were there.”

The teams transferred their belongings to a dump truck.

Task crews clean up belongings left by homeless residents in Echo Park on Friday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Although Garcetti praised the efforts at Echo Park, he specified that such an approach would work “when we need to make improvements to public works or restore parks.” However, “in most places, we are not going to have that situation,” he said.

Shayla Myers, senior attorney for the Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation, said she was concerned that “this is not an isolated strategy.” Selecting particular camps, flooding them with “makeshift resources” to house people temporarily, and then blocking people with fences, posters or surveillance is “incredibly dangerous,” he argued.

The hotel rooms offered through Project Roomkey, for example, are “an incredibly scarce resource and the city is deploying that resource on the whim of council members, not for the most vulnerable residents,” Myers said. “It is a strategy to address the visible evidence of homelessness, but it does nothing to solve the crisis.”

A wedding poster is in a garbage can ready to be removed.

Valerie Zeller’s wedding sign sits in a trash bin ready to be removed during cleanup at Echo Park on Friday. Zeller, a homeless woman, recently married Henry in the park.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

More than a day after the city closed Echo Park, the last remaining residents, Ayman Ahmed and David Busch-Lilly, were arrested Friday morning after spending one last night by the lake.

Along Sunset Boulevard, the chaos of the past few days seemed to have dissipated. Steps from where the police had surrounded and arrested the protesters along with the journalists, the backyard of Stories Books and Cafe was packed with customers.

A few buildings away, outside the back entrance to O’Farrell’s district office, former park resident Valerie Zeller argued with her new husband, Henry, as he tried to convince her to sort the few possessions he had taken out of the room. Park. The couple had gotten married in the park last weekend.

“If you don’t decide what to store, we will have to load it,” Henry said.

The couple, who had slept in an alley Thursday, were later connected to a room for the night. Outside the fenced park, the police were preventing former camp residents from returning to find their valuables. A woman screamed that she needed to go inside to find her birth certificate.

Beyond the police tape, dozens of sanitation workers dressed in white suits divided the park into zones and mapped the tents before classifying them, a complicated process of categorizing what is personal belongings and what is trash or hazardous waste. Things that were considered personal items were put into garbage bags, which were then placed in storage boxes and made their way to a facility in the city center, where they could eventually be recovered.

Crews expected to finish the job on Friday and brought in flood lights so they could work late into the night. In one of their large yellow containers there was a sign that read: “Welcome to our wedding. Valerie and Henry. March 20, 2021 “.

Editor Dakota Smith contributed to this report.

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