Homelessness is on the rise in the United States. This is evidenced by the most recent 2019-2020 figures, and the pandemic is doing its part to make things even worse (although there are still no official 2020-2021 figures to reflect this). A case in point is what is happening in Echo Park, where a homeless camp was set up and where the number of homeless people grew as the COVID-19 health crisis progressed.
On Wednesday, March 24, the park was the site of altercations. Police, who moved into Echo Park to shut the camp down because the city of Los Angeles will begin a series of repairs to the facility, was confronted by protesters – mostly homeless people and activists – who were against the eviction of a homeless camp set up in the public area of Echo Park.
According to reports, some protesters threw objects at police officers, including bottles. They also chanted slogans such as, “Whose park? Our park!”. Despite this, some more peaceful homeless people just wanted to leave the site in the face of the escalating violence.
“I just want to get out of here, it’s getting crazy,” Edward Juarez, a resident of the camp in Echo Park, told the Los Angeles Times.
The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) communicated via Twitter that two “Two unlawful assemblies were declared and dispersal orders were issued at Santa Ynez Street and Glendale Blvd due to officers being assaulted with rocks, bottles and smoke bombs.”
The police, who had to disperse the protesters, denied accusations made via social networks about tear gas used to repress the homeless and activists. “These reports are completely inaccurate. There is NO tear gas being used,” the Los Angeles Police Department said.
According to Fox News, as of “11:45 p.m. local time, authorities remained in the area while fences were set up, according to LAPD Chief Michel Moore. He said people already inside the park would be allowed to stay overnight and no one else was allowed in.”
Moore added that homeless people still in the park would be given a 24-hour warning to leave.
Councilmember O’Farrell explains Echo Park situation
Los Angeles Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said he requested officers’ presence to help the community establish the fence and begin the “rehabilitation of Echo Park.”
“Department personnel are deployed in that area so that those efforts can begin in a safe and unimpeded manner,” O’Farrell said on Twitter. “Our homeless service providers will return tomorrow morning to continue their work with the park’s unhoused homeless residents to offer shelter and services to anyone who wants and needs the assistance.”
Some reports highlight that residents living in the Echo Park area report that insecurity levels have increased from the homeless occupying public space.
Even though O’Farrell announced a relocation plan for homeless people displaced from public space in Echo Park, activists from Services Not Sweeps and other groups are organizing demonstrations and vigils to protect the homeless, arguing that there is still no clarity about what assistance the displaced will receive.
“Here are the facts: my office, in partnership with numerous city departments and LAHSA, has undertaken a monumental effort to provide transitional housing for those experiencing homelessness in Echo Park Lake,” the councilman communicated on Twitter.
“This work, which is ongoing, seeks to accomplish two of my top priorities: putting our most vulnerable on a pathway to wellness and stability by providing a safe, secure environment; and ensuring that Echo Park Lake remains a public space for all to enjoy during park hours”