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LA wants to close Echo Park to clear out a tent city but protesters want to stop the cleanup

Echo Park in Los Angeles has become home to one of the city’s largest tent camps. The LA Times notes that at its peak there were 174 tents in the camp. That was always in violation of curfews but during the pandemic, the city decided to turn a blind eye to the problem:

Although all parks in Los Angeles have nighttime curfews and rules against camping, city authorities — understandably — did not enforce those rules last year in Echo Park as a pandemic raged and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against moving homeless people. According to the CDC, such displacement increased their risk of getting COVID-19 unless the city could offer something safer than group shelter.

But lately, the park has become the battleground pitting advocates for homeless people, who point out that there isn’t enough shelter and housing for the city’s estimated 41,000 homeless, against community residents fed up with the trash and the loss of park space.

Now there are claims the city intends to close the park for renovations on Thursday. So this morning a couple hundred activists showed up to complain about the city’s plan:

Several hundred people rallied Wednesday against a plan to temporarily close Echo Park Lake in order to remove homeless encampments and clean up an estimated $500,000 in damage…

Dozens of homeless advocates held a protest in Echo Park Wednesday morning to attempt to stop the order, marching from the park to O’Farrell’s office.

At one point, a little before 8 a.m., the crowd shut down Sunset Boulevard. Several hundred people eventually returned to Echo Park Lake, vowing to remain if the city tries to push out the campers.

Here’s what the rally this morning looked like:

Even the LA Times found some of the claims being made by the homeless activists to be, shall we say, unsubstantiated horse hockey.

The group marched to O’Farrell’s district office on Sunset Boulevard, a block away, where one longtime resident, Ayman Ahmed, a 20-something who has become an unofficial spokesman, argued that since parks are on public land, they should be used for the public good…

The city is offering to move people from the encampment to hotel rooms it is renting under a state program. Ahmed spoke of the program, Project Roomkey, in dark terms, claiming without evidence that it was lining the pockets of elected officials and wasn’t helping people who need it the most. He said the closure of the park would only add to the problems of the people who have been staying there.

Even the homeless in the park aren’t buying this. The Times reports that 44 people in the park accepted hotel rooms between Monday and Tuesday. Other activists made not-so-veiled threats to harass people at their homes.

“Mitch, if you continue down this path, to sweep and displace unhoused residents of Echo Park Lake, there’s going to be an escalation that you are not prepared for,” warned Ricci Sergienko of the activist group People’s City Council, which has repeatedly staged protests outside the homes of council members.

The city should ignore the threats and the few dozen activists making them. The park is a public space which doesn’t mean drug addicts can live indefinitely there because it’s the best they can do. It means the area is meant to be a space useable by local residents day and night. But the cost for keeping it that way is to offer every single person who would claim the space as their own somewhere else to live at the city’s expense. An LA Times editorial published this afternoon says the homeless in the park shouldn’t settle for anything less:

Now the city appears poised to clear and close Echo Lake Park. But it should not do so until every single homeless person there has been offered a safe, individual space — preferably in a hotel room or a motel room. That doesn’t mean an offer for a bed in a group shelter. And that definitely doesn’t mean forcing someone to a sidewalk or underpass somewhere. That’s not an offer. That’s being shooed away.

Part of me thinks this is outrageous. If someone were to set up camp on the front lawn of an LA Times editorial board member and then announce they would stay there cooking, buying drugs, using drugs, and going to the bathroom in the bushes, until the homeowner paid for a hotel room, that would rightly be seen as a kind of harassment and extortion. But when the homeless do the same thing in a public park the editorial board just expects taxpayers to foot the bill.

On the other hand, part of me sees this as the price you pay for living somewhere whose guiding principle isn’t self-sufficiency but progressive idealism. If people in LA don’t want to live next to tent cities, they can either pay to put people in hotels or move. Just know that if you live in LA there are going to be people, both homeless and not, who see tent cities in public parks not as a sign of failure but as a beautiful experiment in self-governance.

This clip comes from the Echo Park GoFundMe campaign. I think the first guy featured in this clip is the same 20-something mentioned above by the LA Times, the one who is suspicious of free hotel rooms. “Why can’t we make outside living just as nice as Hilton living?” he asks in this clip. I can answer that one. First, because it costs a lot of money and a staff of employees to live in a nice environment. Second because you and the rest of the people living in Echo Park don’t substantially contribute anything to making it happen. What he and others want is for someone to take care of him at their expense. And I guess the bottom line here is that LA residents are going to have to do exactly that if they want to get rid of the tent city in their park.