Camp residents are asking Mitch O’Farrell to relax enforcement of city rules that ban camping in public parks
Homeless residents camping in Echo Park Lake are attempting to broker a deal with Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell that would allow them to stay there with fewer interactions with the police and interruptions from cleanup crews.
The group of approximately 60 residents secured a small victory when—after a tense standoff this morning that involved residents kneeling and chanting in front of their tents—city crews allowed them to keep their tents in the park as sanitation workers bagged trash around them.
“They’re trying to evict us,” said Davon Brown, 29, who’s been living at the park for about four months. “We’re here taking a stand.”
In the letter entitled “Dear Mitch, Please Don’t Evict Us,” the residents say they many of them have lived and worked in O’Farrell’s district for more than a decade.
“What we need and what we desire is to create a solution within this city council district, our home,” the letter reads. “We hope you understand what this lake means to us—this has become our home in what is one of the darkest times of most of our lives.”
Camp residents are asking O’Farrell to relax enforcement of city rules that ban camping in public parks. They want to be able to store their tents at the park, but are willing to take them down during the day between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. if they have permission to sleep in the park overnight.
Scheduled weekly cleanings are “clearly an attempt to evict us,” said Jed Parriott, an organizer with Street Watch LA.
In exchange for the city halting what residents call “frequent and unpredictable” cleanups, the residents say they will volunteer to participate in tasks like “trash collection, gardening, sweeping, beautification projects, maintenance, bathroom cleaning” to keep the park clean.
— To Disrupt and Observe (@disruptobserve) January 24, 2020
At one point during the protest, residents read a list of their demands to Los Angeles Police Department officers, who replied that enforcement of cleanup policies is up to the city’s sanitation department, not them.
“I can not commit to not enforcing the law… [but] I guarantee I will work with you, and will try to come up with some sort of solution. Next week, we’ll sit down and hear your grievances, but it’s going to be just us,” said deputy chief Vito Palazzolo. “I can’t guarantee park rangers or anyone else.”
Because Echo Park Lake is a city-owned park, cleanups are also conducted by the city’s recreation and parks department.
Earlier this week, a City Council committee confirmed that a cleanup program that was previously focused on outreach and services is now back under the jurisdiction of the sanitation department—with councilmembers making the call on when and where cleanups would happen.
O’Farrell was not present at this morning’s cleanup. After the protest, residents and activists marched up to his Sunset Boulevard office chanting “services, not sweeps.” Staffers were observed inside the office but did not open the door.
Signs placed on the windows by protesters read “Y’all know this is cruel” and “Where do we go.”
Asked if O’Farrell was willing to work with the camp residents to reach some sort of compromise about how the rules are enforced, a spokesperson for the councilmember did not comment.
But he did supply a statement from O’Farrell that says: “All city parks must be kept clean, safe, and accessible for people of all ages and income levels. People who are experiencing homelessness at Echo Park Lake will continue to be offered services while we work on securing temporary indoor shelter and ultimately permanent housing.”
Many homeless residents across the city say camping on the streets is their only option. The city doesn’t have enough shelter beds to house the over 36,300 people estimated to be experiencing homelessness. Earlier this week, the state of California promised 30 trailers to be used as shelter even though local laws severely restrict where people can people can sleep in them.
But Echo Park Lake camp residents, some of whom say they are on waiting lists for permanent housing that are two to three years long, say shelters and trailers aren’t a long-term solution to the problem.
Lloyd Edward, 35, started camping at Echo Park Lake two months ago. He’s been homeless for two years, and said it’s the safest place for him to be.
“Shelters are sporadic,” he says. “Some only allow you to stay a week at a time, or you were told there were two beds open, but there were none.”