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Echo Park Lake Will Reopen May 26, Two Months After A Homeless Encampment Was Evicted

Three tents lined up along the shore of Echo Park Lake in Los Angeles before the homeless encampment was cleared out.
Tents at an encampment in Echo Lake Park on March 24, 2021, before the closure of the park the next day.
(Frederic J. Brown
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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Nearly two months since the city erected fencing around its perimeter and evicted a large homeless encampment, Echo Park Lake will reopen at 3 p.m. on May 26.

City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, whose district includes the neighborhood, made the announcement Wednesday morning at a private invitation-only event inside the park. O’Farrell’s office also issued a press release in which he said the closure was necessary for the Department of Recreation and Parks to conduct $1.1 million in repairs to park facilities, remove graffiti and refurbish landscaping.

O’Farrell also cited unsafe conditions in the encampment. There were at least three overdose deaths in the park in 2020. (Drug overdose has been the leading cause of death for people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County since 2017.)

In a recent interview with LAist, O’Farrell would not address how the city intends to keep campers from once again using the park, other than saying security cameras have been installed on the property. “[The cameras] will definitely be monitored by Recreation and Parks and a feed will be available to the LAPD,” O’Farrell said. “We’ll also capture images in case they need to go back if something illegal happens.”

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It’s the latest chapter in a long-running struggle over use of the park, which sits at the intersection of the city’s housing crisis, local activism, policing and politics.

Neighbors say people have always slept at Echo Park Lake. Starting in late 2019, scattered tents evolved into an encampment, which grew during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the CDC recommended against moving unhoused people to help prevent the spread of the virus. In January 2020, protesters blocked sanitation crews from clearing trash around tents, fearing the camp would be disrupted.

Views on the encampment differed drastically. To unhoused advocates, it was a community built on social ties that had developed a version of self-policing, making the park safer than most places homeless people could find to sleep on the streets of L.A. But O’Farrell rejected that characterization. “The situation at the Lake was not ‘commune-like,’ and it was naive and inaccurate to describe it as such,” he said in an emailed statement. “It was unsafe, unhealthy, inhumane and deadly — with multiple fatalities, widespread drug usage and criminal activity, including reports of sexual assaults.”

More than a year later, in late March — after months of ramped-up outreach efforts by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) and the San Francisco-based nonprofit Urban Alchemy that got at least 160 people into temporary hotel rooms through Project Roomkey or other shelter options — hundreds of LAPD officers conducted an evening operation to close down the park. The parks department installed fences enclosing the perimeter of Echo Park Lake while police and protesters clashed nearby.

Some homeless residents stayed inside the fence during a 24-hour warning period, until the final two holdouts were arrested and later released.

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After making an effort to separate and identify homeless people’s belongings, then storing them, the sanitation department disposed of thousands of pounds of trash, some of it human waste.

LAHSA has not responded to questions posed by LAist about the status of people who accepted temporary housing leading up to the closure of the lake. Some residents resisted curfews and other restrictions at city-run hotels, and ended up sleeping in other parts of Echo Park.

This is a developing story and will be updated.