Part Of MacArthur Park Will Close. What’s Next For Those Living There?
MacArthur Park is scheduled to close tonight for maintenance, which means anyone living in the park must be gone by 10:30 p.m.
As the clock ticks down, the office of L.A. City Councilmember Gil Cedillo, who represents the area, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) are continuing their efforts to find housing for those still in the park.
"We have 15 tents left in the park who we are working with to transfer to either Project Roomkey or other interim housing," said Jesus Torres, director of LA Metro Programs for PATH.
Torres said it's "totally understandable" that some may be hesitant to come indoors, but officials will keep engaging to find what their resistance is.
"It doesn't mean they are closed off to those opportunities, it just means they aren't ready at the moment," he said. "We are optimistic that people who are engaging with us will move indoors."
The work in the park is part of the larger street engagement strategy adopted by the city council in September. The strategy involves a more cohesive framework to offer street-based services and connections to housing for unsheltered people.
Cedillo’s office has partnered with LAHSA and PATH on outreach efforts in MacArthur Park since January. As of Oct. 12, 257 people had been moved indoors, according to a Cedillo spokesperson.
COVID-19 restrictions that began at the onset of the pandemic are the reason why MacArthur Park saw a rise in encampments for unhoused people, followed by incidents of crime that left many unhoused people victimized by gangs who used the tents of unhoused people for cover, according to Cedillo’s office. Those instances of crime include the stabbing of a transgender woman a year ago and, more recently, an instance where a transgender woman was stabbed for failing to pay a gang tax.
An analysis of Los Angeles Police Department data by Crosstown LA found there were 163 reported victims of a crime at the park from April 1, 2020 to Sept. 30, 2021. People experiencing homelessness represented nearly 34% of the victims. The highest reported month was June 2020, with 17 reported victims, on par with the same month in the previous two years.
Rosario Argueta, a member of the MacArthur Park Neighborhood Council, said she’s happy the lakeside portion of the park is closing for rehabilitation, adding that the majority of her council colleagues support the closure. Argueta said she has three kids who use the park for exercise and she crosses the park almost daily to take them to school, so she’s looking forward to its reopening.
In a statement posted on Twitter, the neighborhood council said it supports the closure of the park and its rehabilitation since it’s a “vital asset to the community.” The council's Zoning, Land Use, and Planning Committee held a meeting Wednesday night where it unanimously passed a community impact statement regarding the park's closure. It requests that every person living in the park be offered permanent housing. If that doesn't happen, the council supports allowing people to remain in the park, free of sweeps, until permanent housing is offered.
What About The North Side Of The Park?
There are still unhoused people living on the north side of the park, which will remain open. Unhoused people say they are concerned, in part, about strict rules that don't allow them to take their possessions to shelters, and then not having a way out of the shelter into permanent housing. They believe that, although living outside isn’t ideal, they’ve carved out a form of stability for themselves, which is better than the uncertainty of moving to shelters and living with strangers — some of whom have mental health issues.
Josh Van Auker, an unhoused man who previously lived at Echo Park Lake and sometimes sleeps on the north side of MacArthur Park, said he was initially offered a spot at The Grand, a spot for temporary housing, when the Echo Park property was being cleared.
“I threw most of my stuff away, including my sleeping bag. Then when I left the park and asked if I was going to the Grand, someone told me they didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “I didn’t want the shelter they offered because I was upset, but I’m still on the waiting list to get housing.”
There are concerns from unhoused advocates about whether shelter offered to people who have moved indoors will lead to permanent housing. Heidi Marston, LAHSA’s executive director, told our newsroom's news affairs show AirTalk in August that 183 people were moved indoors from Echo Park Lake, and while many were still in those original placements, only three found permanent housing and some were back on the street.
According to LAHSA, there should be five housing options or vouchers for every one shelter bed, so that over a course of a year a shelter bed can serve up to five people. Currently, the ratio is about 1:1.
Argueta said the MacArthur Park Neighborhood Council is working with Jose Rodriguez, Cedillo’s deputy district director, to find housing options for the people still living on the north side of the park. Rodriguez previously said that Cedillo wants to leave no unhoused persons behind at the park without offering shelter for the lakeside portion. Several unhoused people at the park said they have noticed a significant drop in the number of people camping there, and that many former residents have returned to say they had been connected to some form of housing.
Cedillo's office is “110%” focused on the south side of the park and, once it’s closed, outreach efforts will continue on the north side, a spokesperson said in an email.
I spoke with four members of the LAPD who patrol MacArthur Park and asked if there will be a repeat of what happened at Echo Park Lake in March, when officers showed up in riot gear because some campers refused to leave. Several of the officers said they don’t believe that will be necessary, since the majority of people living in the park are accepting some form of shelter. The LAPD’s public information office said in an email that all questions regarding police presence at the park should be directed to Councilmember Cedillo’s office.