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Housing and Homelessness

Protesters At Echo Park Confront LAPD Over Plans To Clear Encampment Of Unhoused Residents

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Dozens of protesters block traffic near Echo Park Lake as police surround the area on March 24, 2021. (Frank Stolze/LAist)
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Over 100 protesters blocked road access to Echo Park Lake Wednesday night as LAPD prepared to clear the homeless community that lives there and shut off access to the park.

Unsheltered residents of Echo Park and advocates stood guard on Glendale Boulevard and sourrounding areas as over a dozen police cars congragated near the park and an LAPD helicopter circled above.

"This is the city's blunder, this is Mitch's mistake -- they just don't know it yet," said resident Ayman Ahmed who has lived at the encampment for a year.

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A resident of the park who identified themselves as "The Queen" speaks to a line of LAPD officers lined up on Glendale Blvd. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)

Earlier in the day, residents of the tent community and allies protested plans by the city to close the property and clear the longstanding homeless encampment.

The demonstration began at the lake at about 7 a.m. and moved to the nearby satellite office of City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who represents the area. A spokesman for O'Farrell on Tuesday would not confirm the timing of the park clean up, but indicated a closure was imminent.

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"We are working with several City departments to temporarily close the park to repair more than half-a-million dollars in damage," said Tony Arranaga, a spokesman for O'Farrell.

On Wednesday, O'Farrell said in a statement that his office has worked with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) to move 120 people into transitional housing in recent weeks, including Project Roomkey hotel rooms.

"If you share our goal of providing housing, supportive case services, and medical care to Los Angeles' most vulnerable residents, I urge people not to gather at the Lake but rather support this ongoing work to help people get housed without interruption," O'Farrell said.

Protesters at the rally talked about showers and a garden the tent residents had built at the lake, and how the park has given them a sense of community.

"It's been so refreshing to live like a normal citizen again, not like a second-class citizen... it has been so refreshing to own my days," said Ahmed during the rally.

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"This won't be as easy as they think. They won't just run the community out of the park," Ahmed added.

Ahmed said the Echo Park tent community allows homeless people the security to leave belongings there and work during the day.

After marching to O'Farrell's office, the Echo Park Rise Up action ended up back at the lake. Residents were making signs to hang around the tents. City sanitation trucks were in the area, but there were no posted notices regarding the closure.

The encampment pre-dates the COVID-19 crisis and is related to the city's affordable housing shortage. In January of 2020, park residents asked for a meeting with O'Farrell, and protesters blocked cleanup crews, fearing sanitation workers and park rangers would discard tents and other belongings.

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COVID-19 brought a respite, according to a statement from the Echo Park Tent Community.

"The biggest pandemic in years actually turned out to be a blessing for us," the statement said. "Without the constant LAPD and city harassment uprooting our lives we've been able ... to come together as a community, not just unhoused but housed as well and work together for the mutual aid and benefit of each other."

Ahmed called the city's expected action to clear the park a short-term bandage that won't fix the larger housing problem.

"For every person [sheltered], two more come with no tent, no blankets -- with nothing, and we provide help." Ahmed said. "It's a homeless epidemic. And this [sweep] is purely for PR and purely for Mitch [O'Farrell] to get reelected."

Criminal justice reporter Frank Stolze contributed to this report.