What Happened in Echo Park?

echo park los angeles

Echo Park is one of those up and coming neighborhoods in Los Angeles that borders Silverlake, Downtown Los Angeles, and Chinatown. My 29 year-old daughter has friends who live in Echo Park and a former 20-something nextdoor neighbor moved to Echo Park 3 years ago claiming she could rent a house for less than she was paying for the 2-bedroom apartment in our 4-plex Beverly Hills building. Echo Park is considered “one of the best neighborhoods” in Los Angeles and has a population that makes it “nearly as dense as San Francisco”. 

“Recent changes in Echo Park have reached a cultural “tipping point” as a new wave of upscale destinations opens their doors. Home shoppers, looking for reasonable home prices, an authentic lifestyle, and big-city amenities are drawn to the area. Census data shows a gradual change in income and education levels; they are slowly shifting upward.”

Echo Park is one of Los Angeles “first neighborhoods” that dates back to the mid 19th century. It grew from there as Los Angeles grew. 

“Echo Park Lake was originally a water reservoir built by the City of Los Angeles in 1870 to supply drinking water to the city. By 1892, it was declared a park and the Echo Park ‘suburb’ grew up around it.”

So what is happening in this oasis neighborhood of late and why is it in the news? 

“A clearing of a homeless encampment in Los Angeles’ Echo Park Lake led to violent clashes between police and protesters Thursday night.”

Why was there a clearing of the encampment in the first place? 

“The sweep of the encampment, where about 200 people live, is a part of a monthslong planned $500,000 rehabilitation effort after tents proliferated at the park during the pandemic and sparked concerns over trash and safety.”

Why did it come to a head on Thursday night, March 25 and why are the homeless being removed? 

“The sweep of the encampment, where about 200 people live, is a part of a monthslong planned $500,000 rehabilitation effort after tents proliferated at the park during the pandemic and sparked concerns over trash and safety.”

“Following the sweep, Echo Park Lake will remain fenced and closed to the public while some facilities upgrades and repairs are made. The duration of the closure has not been confirmed, but reports suggest it may be approximately four weeks.” 

However there are reasons why the homeless do not want to be removed from the park that include not wanting to move to temporary housing in hotels  – Project Roomkey – only to find themselves without a place to go when that temporary housing terminates, the safety of living outdoors during the pandemic versus the crowding of indoor spaces to the sense of community the encampment provides and the contact with service and healthcare providers who know where to find people. https://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/echo-park-encampment-sweep/

“Some are uncomfortable the restrictions placed on participation in Project Roomkey. Individuals staying in the rooms must be present for three check-ins every day, including midday and early evening, which can be difficult for those who have or are attempting to find work. Knock-LA documented at least one case of an individual who, even after checking in with a caseworker to explain a legitimate absence, found himself locked out of the hotel entirely.”

“Hotels can significantly restrict facilities available to Project Roomkey participants. According to Knock-LA’s reporting, one hotel bolted closed the patio doors of rooms being used for the program, and did not offer keys to the front door of the property. Another refused to allow Roomkey guests to park their cars at the hotel. Some participants have even said the rigidity and isolation reminds them of prison.”

Guidance from the CDC discourages dispersing encampments amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Reasons include that outdoor encampments may actually make it easier for unhoused people to distance–and thus slow the spread of disease–compared to what is possible in shelters or other crowded indoor settings.”

“Additionally, the agency says, moving people from an encampment where they have established a residence can make it more difficult for them to stay in contact with service providers, including healthcare providers, such as those taking on the already-difficult task of delivering vaccine to unhoused people.”

Finally by Thursday night March 25 dozens of people, including the homeless and journalists were arrested or detained as protesters gathered to demonstrate against the removal of the encampment and the park’s indefinite closure. The protests continued for a second night as more homeless and journalists were arrested or detained. 

“More than 180 protesters in Los Angeles were arrested and several members of the news media were detained in the second night of confrontation over the removal of a large homeless encampment that overtook a city park, police said Friday.”

“The department said the 182 arrests were for failure to disperse and that three people who identified themselves as members of the media and another three who said they were with the National Lawyers Guild were released at the scene. NLG members observe demonstrations to protect the rights of protesters.”

The homeless crisis in the words of Mayor Gil Garcetti is “the humanitarian crisis of our time.” Although it’s not just Los Angeles that suffers from a homeless crisis – as of June 2020, New York ranks first place although California is the homeless capital. https://www.statista.com/chart/6949/the-us-cities-with-the-most-homeless-people/

The SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition whose mission it is to recognize unhoused individuals as fellow members of society called for the postponement of the park closure. 

SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition is a 501(c)(3) organization of neighborhood organizers who recognize unhoused individuals as fellow members of our community worthy of the same dignity, respect and representation afforded to any housed person.”https://www.selahnhc.org/aboutselah

“The SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition called on city officials to postpone the park closure. The group asked that the homeless and their shelters be allowed to remain until “all unhoused residents there have the necessary time to meaningfully connect with service providers.””

“The coalition, in a statement posted on social media, said the decision to shut the park was made “without reasonable notice to those who will be most directly affected.” The closure will have “serious, detrimental implications” on the homeless.” 

As of the writing of this article, activists are blasting city of Los Angeles’ officials and the police for a “secretive and heavy handed operation” in the eviction of the homeless at Echo Park Lake this week. https://laist.com/2021/03/27/activists-blast-city-for-secretive-and-heavy-handed-homeless-eviction-at-echo-park-lake.php

“Activists are criticizing city officials for giving little warning before a heavy-handed police operation shut down Echo Park Lake this week, followed by the eviction of those living at a longstanding homeless encampment there.”

“For this to happen the way that it did, it was really shocking, and obviously the people who’ve been displaced are traumatized,” said Albert Corado, an organizer with the People’s City Council and NOlympics LA.”

“The CDC recommends not moving homeless encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the city began ramping up its efforts to get people living in tents in Echo Park into shelters this month, offering temporary hotel rooms through Project Roomkey and other options.”

For homelessness to end all the powers that be must come together to provide a living wage, employment opportunities, job training, affordable housing, rent control, affordable health care, food stamps and other social services for all age groups – it will not change until it changes and if it does not sadly there will be more Echo Parks in Los Angeles’ and other city’s futures.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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