Homeless advocates continuing to resist clearing of encampments at Echo Park Lake

Friday, March 26, 2021
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Some homeless advocates faced off with LAPD Thursday evening after the groups clashed the previous night.

ECHO PARK, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A tense situation remains at Echo Park Lake as the city continues efforts to clear out homeless encampments.

Some homeless advocates faced off with LAPD Thursday evening after the groups clashed the previous night during a protest that police said was largely peaceful.

Police gave people until 10:30 p.m. Thursday to leave so that the city could perform what officials said were necessary repairs to the site. Those who leave have been offered temporary housing, and at least 166 people had already been sheltered, said Mitch O'Farrell, a city councilman whose district includes the park.

Eyewitness News observed officers using flashlights going through tents to see how many people remained.

LAPD said a crowd used "high-intensity lights" to try to blind officers, prompting them to declare an unlawful assembly in the area of Lemoyne Street and Park Avenue around 8:10 p.m. and issue a dispersal order shortly later. A designated protest zone was set up on Glendale Boulevard, north of Park Avenue.

AIR7 HD captured footage of police firing non-lethal rounds to break up a crowd as a handful of demonstrators were taken into custody.

"Nobody was acting forcefully against them, except for us linking arms and making sure that we were protecting ourselves, and shortly after rubber bullets started being shot at us and everyone had to run," said demonstrator Hannah Pilkes.

At least four members of the media were also detained by police.

After the unlawful assembly was declared, authorities say officers told members of the media to identify themselves and move to a designated area.

The members of the media were detained along with protesters but were later released without being arrested.

Meanwhile, about 30 to 40 protesters showed up to O'Farrell's home at night amid the effort to clear out the encampments.

The councilman issued a statement Thursday night that said in part:

"I urge calm and cooperation tonight at Echo Park as we continue our work to move the final few people experiencing homelessness from the park into transitional housing before the parkspace closes temporarily for repairs."

Fencing now surrounds the area, and officers remained at the park Friday morning.

A few people still remained inside the park, including David Tyler who has lived in the park since 2019.

"They came in and swooped in in the middle of the night in riot gear, put this fence up, built it," Tyler said. "It was all insanely planned, and I'm terrified right now is all I can tell you."

He says he will go when they officially shut down the park, but he doesn't know where since he says the offers of help come with too many restrictions.

RELATED: Homeless advocates, LAPD clash over Echo Park Lake project

"I know that this is the neighborhood that you moved into, but also have empathy for people. Understand that great, everyone would like to go to the park, but this is where they feel safe," said Addie Weyrich of Los Angeles.

Wednesday night, the effort to clear out encampments resulted in confrontations between homeless advocates and LAPD officers, who say they were pelted with rocks, bottles and other objects. A 26-year-old woman was arrested for failing to obey orders to disperse and was later released.

The scene earlier Thursday was relatively calm, with about 40 people gathered near Glendale Boulevard and Park Avenue in the morning. Four people were escorted back into the closed-off area to retrieve personal property and two others were allowed to retrieve their cars, the LAPD said.

"The Department remains committed to facilitating freedom of speech and encourages people to express their views peacefully," the LAPD said Thursday. "We also encourage advocates and others to denounce violence and not allow such conduct (to) disrupt their message."

The park remained fenced up Thursday as the official closure approached, 24 hours after the city gave final notice that everyone living in tents must leave.

Advocates have said the homeless were not given enough time to relocate.

O'Farrell said the notice should not have been a surprise to the homeless living in the park.

"There have been claims of secrecy and lack of transparency but since January everyone who's been experiencing homelessness has known this day is coming," O'Farrell said. "And in recent days, recent weeks, they've known it's coming closer."

The city is closing down the lake area to make more than $500,000 worth of repairs. They say the park has become unsafe. O'Farrell notes there have been four deaths there.

He also noted that the city has been working to find alternate housing for those who were camped out at the lake, already placing more than 160 in transitional housing since December.

Riley Montgomery, who has lived in the Echo Park neighborhood for eight years, says he wants to see the people housed - and see the park repaired.

"We live here, we pay to live here, we pay taxes to build this park," Montgomery said. "We deserve to have a right to use it."

Thursday morning there were about 20 people still living in tents at the lake.

Among them were Valerie Zeller and her husband, who got married at the park over the weekend.

"I care a lot about this park," she said. "I pick up trash every day for two hours at least."

Zeller says she doesn't want to accept assistance from, for example, Project Roomkey because of restrictions that include curfews.

She says she plans to move right onto the sidewalks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.