Faculty at USC, UCLA, UC Irvine and Occidental College penned a letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council Wednesday to express their “grave and urgent concerns” about the city’s removal of approximately 200 unhoused Angelenos living at Echo Park Lake.
“As experts in the fields of urban planning, social work, history, law, public policy, and public health, we strongly disagree with this declaration of success and instead highlight the far-reaching damage wrought by such displacement,” the letter stated.
“We, the undersigned, are just a fraction of the faculty at UCLA, USC, UCI, and Occidental College outraged by the Echo Park Lake displacement, but we hold specific expertise in matters ranging from housing policy to social services that are directly pertinent to this case.”
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell’s office said on March 22 that the city was planning to close the park and clear out its residents to perform more than $500,000 in repairs and restoration caused by homeless people at the park.
Many neighbors had complained about the group’s trash and said they no longer felt safe visiting the park, and city officials said multiple deaths and instances of sexual abuse had occurred in the encampment.
The park was closed and the group was cleared out last week with the aid of the Los Angeles Police Department.
The 61 faculty members who signed the letter condemned council members for either being actively involved in the group’s displacement or being silent. They also called Garcetti’s comments about the clearing being a success “especially troubling.”
The letter said the city’s action was in violation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines that warn against clearing encampments during the pandemic. Faculty added that they view the clearing as “a forced eviction” in violation of the temporary eviction moratorium.
They also questioned claims by city officials that all of the park’s former residents had been offered adequate housing.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority told City News Service on Friday that 138 park residents were placed in Project Roomkey hotel rooms, 35 in Project Homekey sites and 11 in A Bridge Home shelters.
“First, placements into interim shelter must not be equated with housing people,” the faculty stated in the letter. “Without a clear path to permanent housing, such temporary housing serves as yet one more stop in the endless cycle of displacement. Many of the Echo Park Lake placements were made to Project Roomkey hotels and motels, in locations as distant as Palmdale.”
They added that some Project Roomkey residents claim they live under strict curfews and prison-like conditions while living in the city-provided hotels, and they feel like they have to “trade their autonomy and dignity for a bed.”
The letter also raised concerns about the Los Angeles Police Department’s role in the clearing of the encampment and response to protests. During demonstrations last Thursday night, 182 protesters were arrested and at least five journalists, including the Los Angeles Times’ James Queally, were detained.
“It was eviction at gunpoint, one that entailed the invasion and closure of the park by a militarized police force and led to `uncertainty, fear, anger’ for the homeless residents of Echo Park Lake,” faculty said, citing reporting from the Times.
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