LAAPOA joins with many local residents in opposing the removal of the fence surrounding Echo Park Lake today, two years after an encampment of more than 200 homeless people was cleared from the area.
At the time, City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell noted that the park had become “an environment that included rampant open-air drug use, at least one drive-by shooting, at least one machete attack, reported prostitution, reported trafficking, and four deaths.” The clearing of the encampment was marked by multiple nights of protests that led to a major police response and over 180 arrests. In the ensuing two-month cleanup, more than 723 pounds of biological waste and 300 pounds of hazardous waste were removed. When the park reopened two months later, the fence remained in place, with the gates locked each night to discourage criminal activity and the return of encampments. Neighbors and parkgoers say the strategy has worked, resulting in a noticeable decrease in drug use, vandalism and other crimes since the fence was installed.
Nevertheless, last month new Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez announced the fence would be dismantled, calling it a divisive symbol of the city’s past failed homeless policies. While he has claimed that outreach will be ramped up to connect the area’s homeless people with housing, and that teams of unarmed responders will be available at the park at night, those vague promises are far from enough to assure many local residents that the encampments and accompanying unsafe conditions won’t return as soon as the fence is removed.
“Removing the Echo Park Lake fence before finalized resources have been put into place to prevent a repeat of what happened last time is a bad idea,” LAAPOA President Marshall McClain said. “We know there are no quick or easy solutions to the large-scale systemic issue of homelessness. Instead of rushing to make the empty gesture of removing this fence to fulfill his campaign promise and declare victory over this complex situation, the councilmember should have waited to allow more time for the mayor’s housing plan — which has only been underway for a few months — to take effect. LAAPOA stands with the homeowners and park patrons who have voiced their concerns that this move is being made without any evidence that things have changed, and with no clear plan to ensure the security of the park and surrounding neighborhood. Our public safety resources are already strained, and this hasty decision will only compound the issue.”