By: Madalyn Amato & Julia Terbeche
Several hundred demonstrators gathered at Echo Park in Los Angeles early Wednesday morning to protest the city’s proposed plans to displace hundreds of individuals facing housing insecurity living around the lake.
Organized by Services Not Sweeps, a coalition started by Echo Park’s unhoused community, the peaceful demonstration began around 7 a.m. and continued throughout the morning, focusing on preventing sanitation crews from coming and dispersing the encampment. At the height of the demonstration, the group had grown to thousands of participants.
“We’re back to fighting for our right to just exist,” Ayman Ahmed, a resident of Echo Park, said. “This umbrella of safety that COVID gave us, it allowed us to grow as a community, we built things out here when the city took our showers, we built showers when the city wouldn’t even come during COVID to help in any way, let alone any organization or church, we built a kitchen so we can eat, because the definition of community is not dependent on your economy is dependent on all of us living here together, and that’s what we’re about community power.”
Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, of Los Angeles’ 13th district, has said previously that he plans to close the park for renovations, according to reporting by the Los Angeles Times, however, it is unclear when and where these renovations are scheduled to take place.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines advised against the dispersal of unhoused individuals from public places and groupings during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, citing concerns of further spread into other communities. Now that regulations have changed, the city has plans to move forward with displacing the community that calls Echo Park home.
According to reports, O’Farrell said there are plans to place the individuals who reside in the park in local hotels. Activists and members of the community said these plans are slow to coming to fruition, causing many to relocate to other homeless encampments in the meantime.
“Fight fight fight, housing is a human right,” the group chanted.
Valerie Zeller, who has faced housing insecurity for about two months, said that the community at Echo Park is like “heaven on Earth.”
“I was on the other side looking in, helping homeless. Now I am the homeless person,” Zeller said. “These people are special people here, they all have different backgrounds and reasons, but they’re good people, really good people.”
Zeller said she had never expected herself to be someone who faced homelessness in her lifetime. Now, she considers the park her home and even married another resident of the encampments.
Sam Garcia, a resident of Los Angeles, said they felt compelled to show their support for the Echo Park community because they know what it feels like when “the government doesn’t care.”
“I know what it’s like to sleep out here in these parks, and I know what it’s like to be harassed by cops for no reason but just because you’re homeless,” Garcia said. “We, as people who are from here and love our city, [need] to come and support each other and help each other.”
Initial reports led the community to believe sanitation crews were coming Wednesday to clear the encampments, however, those plans appear to have been postponed to Thursday.
In response to the postponement, activists called on demonstrators to participate in a park sleepover in the event that officials come overnight or in the early morning, a common tactic used by police and clean-up crews.
David Buch-Lilly, member of Echo Park Rise Up, said that he’s not interested in offerings from the city, not because he is “shelter resistant,” but because “offerings come with strings.”
“They’re ignoring the poor, suffering people in the blocks around us,” Buch-Lilly said. “If they say, ‘We’re making you an offer of housing,’ am I going to go to that hotel room tonight, sleep there, watch the TV and get lulled into their complacency? Or would I be better off, all of us tonight, being out on the street, camping in Echo Park.”
The group made its way out of the park, marching onto Lemoyne Street to gather outside of O’Farrell’s office on Sunset Boulevard in hopes of having a conversation with him, something community leaders said has not yet happened.
As the group waited for O’Farrell, activists led chants including “Show me what community looks like, this is what community looks like,” and “Mitch O’Farrell show your face.”
The councilman did not show.
Representatives from the National Lawyer’s Guild were present to monitor event. Although police officers were seen in the area, no contact was made with demonstrators.
A small group of sanitation workers were escorted around the park by representatives from activist groups to collect trash from trash cans, but were directed to not touch any of the encampments or anyones’ belongings.
The group is planning to reconvene Thursday morning for another demonstration.