A group of activists and homeless residents plans to gather at Echo Park Lake Wednesday to stage a protest against plans by the city to clear the park of a large homeless encampment and close it for what’s being described as repair work.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s communications director, Tony Arranaga, told City News Service the city is closing the park to repair more than $500,000 in damage.
Arranaga would not confirm the date of the closure, but the Los Angeles Times reported the encampment of homeless at the park will be cleared by Thursday and fences would be installed to keep the park closed for renovations.
O’Farrell told reporters during an unrelated news conference Tuesday that the city will follow all U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines when preparing the park for the renovation work, and efforts are being made to find housing for everyone who has been living there since January.
He did not provide details about what type of housing would be provided or when it would happen, but said the city previously housed more than 100 of the park’s residents. According to O’Farrell’s office, the city is working to identify rooms and beds through Project Roomkey, Project Homekey and shelters.
News of the planned action sparked outrage among the homeless and advocates, who said CDC guidelines recommend against clearing homeless encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines state that “clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread.”
Advocates for the homeless, including representatives of Echo Park Street Watch, Ground Game L.A. and the Los Angeles Community Action Network, will meet at the park at 7 a.m. to support the park’s residents. The group plans to hold a 24-hour vigil “to seek citywide cooperation and support in coming days to stop the shutdown of L.A.’s largest self-run homeless haven.”
The park’s community — which has created a vegetable garden, working showers and a kitchen — has been praised by activists as a self-run, diverse community of housed and unhoused residents of the neighborhood.
“Echo Park Lake, situated on Tongva Land, has been a haven of this community since its development and should remain a free and accessible place for members of this community who need it for solace, leisure or survival,” Zarinah Williams, president of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council, said in a statement to City News Service. “We do not feel that $500,000 in restorative landscaping is a priority endeavor given layered consequences of displacement and criminalization of our residents.”
Several people called into Tuesday’s City Council meeting to speak about the move to close the park.
“I applaud the efforts of (the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority) to place folks into (Project Roomkey) sites, but as we all know, eligibility for the program is limited,” said Sachin Medhekar, organizing committee member for the SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition. “I’m urging you to not displace the over 100 folks that reside at the lake, especially during this ongoing pandemic and to instead focus on connecting folks with a variety of services and housing options they deserve.”
A woman who identified herself as a resident of the Echo Park neighborhood said she supported the clearing of the park and closure for renovations.
“I personally have not visited the park in over a year because it doesn’t feel sanitary or safe,” she said. “I also worry that the $45 million investment the city made to rehabilitate the park is being wasted.”