Los Angeles police maintained a perimeter around Echo Park Thursday following a tense overnight operation to remove a homeless encampment and make way for a $500,000 renovation effort, with Councilman Mitch O’Farrell calling the effort a “phenomenal situation that has placed 166 people in secure housing.
The operation — which was continuing Thursday as more than two dozen homeless people remained in the park — is the culmination of a months-long planning and outreach effort designed to remove an encampment that is believed to have grown to as many as 200 people during the COVID-19 pandemic. The sea of tents lined the shores of Echo Park Lake, leading to complaints from some residents and visitors about the safety of one of the city’s most prized recreation areas.
But advocates for the homeless blasted the city’s effort to remove the encampment, saying it had grown into a safe haven for people with no other options. Hundreds of people rallied at the park Wednesday, marched to O’Farrell’s district office, then maintained a vigil late into the evening in hopes of thwarting the closure of the park.
Police were deployed to the park Wednesday night, closing some streets in the area, leading to some standoffs with remaining protesters, and the declaring of a citywide tactical alert.
A series of dispersal orders were issued as crowds collected near Santa Ynez Street and Glendale Boulevard, and police said officers were “assaulted with rocks, bottles and smoke bombs.”
One arrest was made. According to police, 26-year-old Nicole Partori was arrested “(a)fter a dispersal order was given and after the allotted time had expired.
“Officers began to move forward and move the crowd back. Partori refused to obey orders, flashed a flashlight in the officer’s eyes and was arrested …. She was cited and released for failing to comply with orders from a police officer,” police said.
No injuries have been reported, police said.
The LAPD also denied social media reports that officers had deployed tear gas. The tactical alert was called off around 1:20 a.m. Thursday.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore said department personnel “will remain in the area around Echo Park as the fencing is completed. … Echo Park remains closed to the public and those final remaining persons experiencing homelessness are being provided housing assistance and transportation and must leave the park following last night’s notice of the park’s pending closure for repairs.”
As fencing was erected around the park, Moore said shortly before midnight that no one else would be permitted inside the park, and those who remained inside had 24 hours to leave. He noted that “housing resources are being provided to everyone.”
O’Farrell said Wednesday that about 120 people who had been living at the park were moved into safe housing, primarily motel rooms made available through Project Roomkey.
By Thursday morning, that number had grown to 166, largely through the efforts of the outreach group Project Alchemy, which has been working with park residents since December.
“This is a phenomenal situation that’s developing, and right now we have the best professional outreach workers, Urban Alchemy, out there fanning the park to make sure the last few remaining people experiencing homelessness will accept the services that we’re offering, and we can get them into safe shelter as well,” O’Farrell told reporters outside the park.
O’Farrell said his office contracted with Urban Alchemy in December to being outreach work to those living in the park and begin to identify housing solutions. He said he was committed to finding alternative housing for everyone before temporarily closing the park for repair work
“Since the pandemic began and even before that, knowing the conditions at Echo Park Lake and the realities in the situation there, my team and I set out to make sure that even though the park needed repairs back then, that in order to do this, my non-negotiable was that we would find housing solutions for everyone at the lake no matter how they got there, and there are all sorts of stories about how people arrived,” he said.
Video from the scene Thursday morning showed about 30 tents remaining inside the park.
Despite the tense overnight situation, Lena Miller of Urban Alchemy told reporters the months-long operation to move people into interim housing is a “model for how this work is to be done.”
“One thing people don’t quite understand is it’s hard to live on the streets,” she said. “We know this in the most basic fundamental way. But it’s also very dangerous. There is a lot of trauma that goes on for people living outdoors, and what we’re trying to do is not only to bring people better living conditions and sanitary conditions, but also that we start eliminating some of the trauma and the violence and the hurt and the pain that goes on with people who are living on the streets.
“So this is the beginning. I know everybody is not particularly happy about the park closing,” she said. “There’s been a lot of people who have some feelings of opposition, but every single person in this park, every last one who wanted to go, is in a hotel room. If we’re going to start moving this issue in Los Angeles, if we’re going to start getting people into shelter, into housing, this is the right way to do it.”
O’Farrell said the park will remain closed for several weeks, although he did not know an exact timeline.
“But the park will reopen safely and securely in all of its splendor,” he said. “It is one of the crown jewels of the park system in Los Angeles and everyone housed or unhoused will be able to come back and enjoy the park during park hours. It will be safe and secure every day and every night.”