February 8, 2023

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Protests in Echo Park over planned homeless encampment cleanup

As the sun came up Wednesday morning, Echo Park residents, activists and homeless people rose up to protest.

More than 200 amassed in the park by 7 a.m. to castigate a planned fencing and closure of Echo Park Lake, which would lead to the removal of people who have been sleeping there in tents throughout the pandemic.

The community came out expecting to see a retinue of law enforcement and sanitation workers.

But there was little if any sign that a cleanup was starting. A few sanitation workers came and went but, besides that, there was very little activity. The Times previously reported that the park would be fenced and closed by Thursday — a date that elected officials such as City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the area, refused to confirm.

Since news of the park closure broke, O’Farrell’s office has been flooded with angry calls and emails. In the park, encampment residents mingled with the community and decried the city’s response to homelessness writ large.

The group marched to O’Farrell’s district office on Sunset Boulevard, a block away, where one longtime resident, Ayman Ahmed, a 20-something who has become an unofficial spokesman, argued that since parks are on public land, they should be used for the public good. He castigated the secrecy that accompanied the planned closure and informed people they’d be staying the night.

“Whoever can be here, please sleep over,” he said. “We need to tell Mitch this has got to stop.”

The city is offering to move people from the encampment to hotel rooms it is renting under a state program. Ahmed spoke of the program, Project Roomkey, in dark terms, claiming without evidence that it was lining the pockets of elected officials and wasn’t helping people who need it the most. He said the closure of the park would only add to the problems of the people who have been staying there.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Agency, Ahmad Chapman, said that on Monday and Tuesday, outreach workers from the agency moved 44 people from the lake into hotels.

Around 9 a.m. Wednesday, more buses began to arrive to take people to a downtown hotel.

Once the speakers were finished, the group marched back to the park and planned to paper the park with signs as they waited for the authorities to arrive.