Echo Park Lake Homeless Community Forced Out: What We Know So Far

Echo Park Lake is fenced off as protesters clash with LAPD officers on March 25, 2021. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Reporters Frank Stolze and Chava Sanchez contributed to this report.

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Earlier this week, the homeless community at Echo Park Lake and its advocates resisted a closure and clean-up of the park aimed at clearing the encampment. Police gave the remaining occupants until 10:30 p.m. on Thursday to leave the area, although some stayed behind. The city of L.A. is offering temporary housing to everyone.

WHAT ELSE YOU SHOULD KNOW

  • The homeless encampment is now empty.
  • The final two Echo Park Lake encampment residents, Ayman Ahmed and David Busch-Lilly, were detained by LAPD Friday at 10:36 a.m. They were put in zip-ties and taken to the Metro Detention Center. Ahmed and Busch-Lilly were cited and released about an hour later.
  • At about 11 p.m. on Thursday, an announcement from an LAPD helicopter said that folks still in the park were subject to citations.
  • We spoke to two unhoused residents, Sterling Gaston and Charles McKnight, who left the park shortly after 10 p.m. Gaston said he was offered a room at a hotel in Skid Row, but did not take it. He also said his mother remained at the park with her belongings and her dogs.
  • Many unsheltered residents of the park — almost 200 people — have been given housing via Project Roomkey, Project Homekey, A Bridge Home and winter shelter, according to an email statement from Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell.
  • Councilmember Nithya Raman, who represents City District 4, has spoken out against the closure of the park. "None of it needed to happen," she said in a tweet.
  • The LAPD declared an unlawful assembly in the area of Lemoyne and Park Avenue Thursday evening, the agency tweeted.
  • It is unclear how many, but several people were detained and arrested Thurday night. We saw LAPD officers loading detained protestors on buses. An LA Times reporter was detained earlier in the night, but was released from custody.
  • A designated protest zone was established on Glendale Blvd north of Park, LAPD posted on Twitter.
  • LAPD Captain Rick Stabile told us on Thursday morning that the closed perimeter around Echo Park Lake was for public safety. He said there was "no hard timeline" for homeless residents to get their belongings out: "We want to give it as much time as possible." But posted signs said belongings had to be gone by 10:30pm Thursday evening.
  • Streets around the park were shut down on Thursday, including the northbound 101 freeway's Echo Park Ave. off-ramp. Traffic was diverted. An officer told us the roadblocks were there because they expected more protests.
  • "Two minor use of forces have been reported," according to the LAPD. A reporter for The Intercept, who says he wasn't on assignment during Wednesday night's clash with police, tweeted that he was hit by an officer's baton and had his arm broken.
  • Dozens of homeless encampment residents and advocates faced off with police Wednesday night as city workers attempted to put fencing around Echo Park Lake.

WHY IT MATTERS

The fight over the encampment has become a flashpoint in the debate over the city's policies towards homeless encampments. Those living at the park say they've essentially created a viable shelter, filling a void they argue the city has failed to fill.

Tony Arranga, a spokesman for City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who represents the area, said this week that city officials partnered with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to place "more than 100 people living at the lake into safe housing and shelter" in recent weeks through Project Roomkey, Project Homekey and shorter term shelter beds.

The clash comes after many months of reprieve from so-called "homeless sweeps" for unhoused people living in encampments. Those sweeps have been largely abandoned during the COVID-19 pandemic, in part due to concerns that displacing those living in encampments could further spread the dangerous virus.

Ayman Ahmed, a resident of the Echo Park Lake who was one of the last to leave, described the emotion behind the park clean-up.

"I've lost everything before. We had something beautiful out here, and the rug has been swept out from under us."

Some unsheltered people who "go to a shelter just have to move from program to program every 3-6 months. We had stability here (in the park)," Ahmed said.

The city should have done this differently, said Zarinah Williams, president of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council.

"The first priority of it should have been, 'Ok, there are humans who are here, let's worry about them first and get them into permanent housing with permanent solutions for lives and their care, let's do that' and then the park would be perfect forever because we'd never have to worry about people living in it."

THE CONTEXT

Homeless residents and advocates have been bracing for the city of Los Angeles to close Echo Park Lake and clear the tent community. Earlier this week, city officials indicated the closure was imminent. Then, as LAPD officers in riot gear were out in force late Wednesday while city workers installed fencing around the 30-acre park, city officials announced encampment residents had until 10:30 p.m. Thursday to leave.

HOW WE'RE REPORTING ON THIS

Our politics reporter Libby Denkmann was on scene at Echo Park Lake Thursday and Friday and visual journalist Chava Sanchez reported from near the park on Thursday night. Criminal Justice reporter Frank Stoltze covered the protests of a heavy police presence at the park late Wednesday. The editors on this story were Oscar Garza, who edits our politics coverage, LAist Editor Brian De Los Santos and Executive Editor Megan Garvey.

WHAT QUESTIONS WE'RE ASKING

  • How many encampment residents will be helped as they are forced out of the park?
  • Why did LAPD and city workers show up at night to put up fencing?
  • How many days in advance did Echo Park Lake residents were given notice this would be happening?
  • We're also reaching out to city officials.

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