Hundreds of protesters gathered at Echo Park Lake Wednesday morning to rally against the city’s plans to clear a homeless encampment that has become a growing point of tension — and a reflection of how Los Angeles’ broader homelessness crisis has worsened during the pandemic.
By 10 p.m. Wednesday night, police were blocking off streets in the neighborhood and pushing back protesters still assembled in the area. Gas could be seen in the air as officers wearing riot gear and carrying batons faced off with dozens of protesters in aerial video captured by Sky5.
The skirmish line started around Sunset Boulevard and moved south along Glendale Boulevard to Santa Ynez Avenue, where police had been engaged in a standoff with the remaining demonstrators for nearly an hour as of 11 p.m. Another skirmish line was at the other end of the park, making its way north, and dozens of police cars were stationed in the area.
Around 11:20 p.m., LAPD announced that two unlawful assemblies had been declared and “dispersal orders were issued at Santa Ynez Street and Glendale Blvd due to officers being assaulted with rocks, bottles and smoke bombs.”
LAPD said the police were setting up fencing and that officers will be at the scene overnight. Around 11:42 p.m., Chief Michel Moore said people who are already inside the park with their tents set up will be allowed to remain overnight.
“No one else may enter. 24 hr notice for those in the park to leave. Housing resources are being provided to everyone,” Moore tweeted.
The number of tents at the park has swelled in recent months amid mass store and restaurant closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Near the intersection of Glendale Boulevard and Park Avenue, at one corner of the park, a crowd was gathering around 7 a.m. Wednesday to try to stop officials from forcing out homeless individuals who have been living there.
Sky5 was overhead as a group of people remained gathered at Glendale and Park an hour later, holding a news conference there. They later marched to the office of City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the 13th District, which includes East Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park and surrounding areas.
“These are people. And they are our neighbors,” said Ashley Ryan, who lives in the area. “The way we have treated this community is horrendous. These people deserve love and compassion … and we have the audacity to tell them to get out? Absolutely not.”
Later Wednesday, O’Farrell’s office released a statement saying more than 120 people living at the park had been moved into transitional housing including sites under Project Roomkey, the state-run program that offers hotel rooms to those experiencing homelessness. Buses were arriving to the park Wednesday morning to take some to a downtown L.A. hotel, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In the statement, O’Farrell said his office has been working for months to find housing for individuals at the park, and its closure will allow repairs to lighting, plumbing and other much-needed improvements.
Freelance journalist Sean Edwards posted images to Twitter showing dozens of people gathered outside O’Farrell’s Echo Park office. On social media, the hashtag #EchoParkRiseUp has circulated with calls to action, photos of protests and notifications to the public about plans to sweep the park.
“@MitchOFarrell plans to displace all unhoused residents at Echo Park Lake,” reads a Tuesday tweet from L.A.-based coalition Services Not Sweeps. “We need your help to take action to stop this now. No forced displacement.”
The tweet links to a document that explains how advocates can help, from calling O’Farrell’s office to camping at the park Wednesday night in a show of solidarity with the homeless population.
The city plans to fence off the park and clear it of the homeless encampment on Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday, citing a source with direct knowledge of the process.
At the time, the source spoke on the condition of anonymity since plans for the park closure were being “tightly held” as they could inspire protests like those seen Wednesday, the Times reported.
O’Farrell’s office released a statement later Wednesday saying official notices about the park’s closure would be soon posted. But as of Wednesday afternoon, he had not confirmed a date.
News of the expected closure has spurred local activists into action. Outreach workers have been working to get some of the encampment’s residents into hotels. The Instagram account @EchoParkRiseUp has detailed efforts in recent months to clean the park, plant a community garden and do other projects through the efforts of the local homeless population and its supporters.
Meanwhile, some local residents and others have been vocal critics of the encampment. An online petition on Change.org titled “Save Echo Park Lake” places blame on O’Farrell and Mayor Eric Garcetti for the growing number of tents pitched along the perimeter of the lake.
“The city of Los Angeles and the local CD-13 politicians have abandoned the lake we paid $45 Million for,” the petition states, citing the costs of a renovation made years earlier.
The petition — which had some 4,700 signatures of a 5,000 goal by Wednesday afternoon — describes the park as “virtually unusable” and states it is “becoming Skid Row.” It calls on city officials to “restore the lake and build housing.”
Many local activists have said the city is planning to displace dozens of homeless people while not offering any solutions that get to the root of the issue.
“You can’t just kick us out,” Jed Parriott, an organizer with homeless advocacy project Street Watch LA, told the Times. “Until you find and address the actual problems and actual solutions, I’m sorry, but we’re going to be here.”
A local resident attending the protests, who gave her name only as Alicia, said displacing people requires ensuring they actually have somewhere to go afterward, something she said isn’t being done.
“Permanent housing takes time, and there are people in this park that have been working with nonprofits to get into permanent housing, to get into safer places,” Alicia said.
“As of right now, there is no guarantee that when they take people out of the park — if they do today — there is somewhere for them to go,” she said. “There is no guarantee that there is somewhere safe for every one of these people to go.”