LOS FELIZ, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A group of Los Feliz residents is pressing city officials to remove an underground pedestrian walkway that has been taken over by homeless people and is now impassable.
The tunnel is under the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and New Hampshire Street, and near Los Feliz Elementary School. Neighborhood residents say now that it is packed with the homeless and their belongings, it poses a serious safety problem. Parents and children now rely on a crossing guard to cross the busy boulevard.
"We've had reports of narcotics being made down below, people actually trying to cook inside the tunnel, trying to heat during the cold time with open flames, so it definitely became a safety issue," said senior lead Officer Lenny Davis of the Los Angeles Police Department.
Davis says the city has tried countless times to secure the 70-year-old tunnel, but people cut the locks or slide through the chain link fencing that surrounds both of the tunnel's entrances. An electrical cord stretches from a homeless encampment near the south entrance, down the stairs and to a power source inside the tunnel.
Carlos Sarmiento has been living in the tunnel for nearly eight months and gave an Eyewitness News producer a tour of his underground accommodations. The subterranean walkway sports a bed, a sofa, a flat screen television and makeshift walls with lighting overhead.
"I'm looking for a job," Sarmiento said. "I don't want to be here forever because I want to change my life. I want to go get something different."
Davis says some L.A. City Council members and neighborhood residents want the tunnel permanently closed and filled with concrete. But not everyone sees that as a tenable solution.
"They'll make that inaccessible to the homeless instead of solving the actual problem, which is giving them housing," Milagro Jones said.
He and his daughter were homeless for a stretch, living on Skid Row and in shelters. Jones says L.A. has to step up its efforts to build places for the unhoused to live before rousting them from their current spots.
"The people who are homeless right here are not homeless by their own choice," he told Eyewitness News. "They're homeless because the city of Los Angeles has not made resources available to them to be housed."
The tunnel is just a block west of another encampment at Berendo Street. Many residents there have been trying for months to get the city to clear it out. There has been substantial progress, with the city finding housing for most of the people who had been living there.
Unfortunately, one of the remaining occupants of a tent on Berendo is a man police describe as a drug-dealing gang member. He was last arrested May 28 for possession of a stolen car. Because of the city's COVID-19 protocols, he was released on his own recognizance and returned to his tent within hours of the arrest. Some residents say he's been terrorizing the neighborhood, while others say he's misunderstood.
"He's also just a young man," said Sara Wilson, who's lived on that block of Berendo for more than two years. "He and his partner live here and they have kids that are thankfully with family right now, but they're just a young couple trying to do their best."
Davis says more community outreach is needed throughout the city and suggests neighbors band together to find ways to fix the homelessness problems where they live.
"The solution's got to come from the community," he said. "It's not going to fall on one agency or one department. It's going to take a village."