More than 66,000 people were homeless in LA County at the start of 2020. Once Covid hit, shelters and other programs have reduced services and large camps have increased. Pandemic rules prevented the city from evicting people from makeshift tent sites.
Some residpark with established tent communities, claiming they offered a better option than group shelters - which could expose them to Covid - or hidden alleys and underground passages, where they might be more vulnerable to violence.
Echo Park and MacArthur Park both drew large crowds of homeless people. "It's not that we want to be in the park, it's just that we don't have a choice," said Gustavo Otzoy, 55, who lived in MacArthur Park earlier this year. year after the city closed the Echo Park encampment where he resided.
Located in an area home to many immigrants from Central America, The Park MacArthur is known for its scenic lake and fountain, a popular soccer field, a pavilion for outdoor performances, and a large population of geese.
The area is full of space where people canThey set up tents and advocates say there are benefits when groups gather next to each other. "Having people in one place kept them in touch with services, fed them, provided them with water," said Robin Lifland, an advocate who lives next to the park and has helped organize donations for homeless residents. Over the past year, the park has seen mobile shower programs, regular food deliveries, outdoor religious events, Covid testing, and vaccination clinics.
But life in the park has also been extremely difficult, with homeless residents worrying about physical and sexual assault, frequent fights, fires and harsh fights. 'other security risks. Many camp residents struggle with serious mental health issues, addictions, overdoses and health issues- often conditions created or exacerbated by living outdoors. "People disperse and disappear '
In January, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (Lahsa) and People Assisting the Homeless (Path), a group in nonprofit working with the city to help the homeless, started sending outreach workers to the park.
"Our homeless neighbors were really the prey. So we clearly noticed a thefthave had to get inside, "said Jennifer Hark-Dietz, deputy CEO of Path.
Over the past year, the city and its homeless service partners have increasingly focused on specific locations that developed large settlements during Covid. The goal, said Colleen Murphy, Lahsa's Homeless Strategies Manager, was to build confidence in a specific tent community through persistent outreach in an area, and connect them with options for sheltering. appropriate shelter, services and treatment. Outreach workers have mainly relied on Project Roomkey, a pandemic control program, to provide residents with temporary stays in motels.
Meanwhile , the city has stepped up its crackdown on tent communities and people who sleep. outside.The city faced widespread backlash in March when it evicted from Echo Park Lake encampments , aided by a militarized police force who arrested nearly 200 people protesting the park's closure.
During the summer the authorities authorized a huge Venice Beach Parkway Encampments , and City Council also passed a new law additional restriction sleeping on certain public properties. City leaders have pledged to provide shelter to homeless people when they force them to move. But in practice, housing initiatives have had success.This is mixed, with reports that many have ended up back to the street .
In March, the police department spent $ 2 million on four days to enforce the closure of Echo Park. A spokesperson for Lahsa said this week that of the 183 people who lived in the park before it closed, only four people have been placed in permanent accommodation. The majority of the remaining residents are still in temporary accommodation, Lahsa is helping.
But Ananya Roy, director of UCLA 's Institute on Inequalities and Democracy, which studies the displacement of Echo Park, said that his group was in contact with residents who returned to thestreet after their initial placements, and that it was not clear whether the residents of the shelters would receive permanent housing: "People are scattered and have disappeared ... And there is just a decline in what I call compassion Covid. We are on the verge of a fairly severe exclusion regime. "
Venice's efforts have been more successful: out of 213 displaced from the promenade , 46 are now in permanent housing, and 167 are in temporary shelter, according to St Joseph Center, a local service provider.
Murphy noted that the large Majority of people who get permanent accommodation stay housed, but the area could not meet the demand: “We have helped a lot of people to return home, but we do not have the supply of permanent accommodation. More than 200 people find themselves homeless in the region every day, according to government statistics - and the problem could bisoon worsen with the state's end to its Covid deportation restrictions.
The homelessness crisis has also become a major problem in recent political races. Some residents of Venice have sued the city in an attempt to force the settlements to close, and groups in Los Angeles have pressured their local representatives to be tougher on residents living outside, arguing that tent sites can be dangerous and dangerous.
Leading politicians campaigned alongside detractors of the encampment, promising of" cleaning the streets ”and“ arresting ”people who refuse to come.
The LA County Sheriff, who is facing re-election, has warned that people without accommodationflocked to LA to "destroy our community ", and a criticized government aid programs that help" nomadic "people, even though. The the majority of the homeless population of LA lived in LA when they became homeless. Preparing for closure
At MacArthur Park, 257 people have moved into some sort of shelter since January, according to the office of Gil Cedillo, a council member whose district includes the park. Although the population has dramatically declined, the tents remained scattered throughout the region for the last few days before the closure.
Cedillo said the closure of the park was necessary for the repairsElectric rations, landscaping, irrigation upgrades and replacement of signs and furniture t, and this part of the park would remain open.
At the park this week, police cars crisscrossed the walkways, sometimes questioning homeless residents who remained. At least one person was arrested on Monday, without it being known why.
"Their purpose is to harass and intimidate " said Lesly Lynch, 70, a homeless resident who spent time in the park but no longer camp there. "This will not solve the problem, " he said of the closure, noting that some people would not stay in the shelters due to the strict rules and the harsh environment.
Otzoy, who had stayed at Echo Park and MacArthur, works as a handyman and said the motel program looks like "a prison ". The COpen fires interfered with his work schedule and he was not allowed to keep his tools, he said, adding that the renovations to MacArthur Park should not require a fenced closure: "It 's is just an excuse.
"They have to focus on more important things - like housing," added Jimmy Glenwood Sr, 72, another homeless resident sitting down. on a bench nearby.
"It 's at best a theater of safety for people who are housed and complaining," argued Sherin Varghese , co-founder of Ktown for All, a volunteer advocacy group for homeless people. "It 's an illogical approach that prioritizes aesthetics over humanity.
Stacy White, a homeless resident who was camping in MacArthur but has now moved to a shelter, recently returned to help friends who are restes. She said she supported the closure of the park, given how dangerous it had become for homeless people: "I don't want to die outside. " But she was not sure people would get the help they needed: "Nothing is going to change.
Jose Felix Cabrera Larios, vice president of the MacArthur Park Council neighborhood, said he was happy that the park would be improved and that he had good hope that there will be wo There would be no more camps in the future: “Before the pandemic, the rules were respected. And the rules will be followed once the park reopens.
Cedillo, the board member, declined an interview request. A spokesperson said he could not say whether people who refused to leave would be arrested on Friday: "The park is closing and we are asking everyone to leave.