On the morning of Feb. 12, over 100 community members gathered at Echo Park Lake to shut down the city’s attempt to evict the park’s houseless residents. Street Watch LA, a coalition seeking to protect the rights of the unhoused, organized the action. Attendees were encouraged to bring tents, signs and food in support of their houseless neighbors. Within an hour of the action, a small army of Los Angeles sanitation workers, LA Police Department and armed park rangers descended on the area. However, due to the strong community presence and solidarity, the sweep was unsuccessful and tents remained untouched.
Since Street Watch began defending the camp several weeks ago, the City of Los Angeles has increased the number of scheduled sweeps from monthly to weekly with the purpose of forcing the houseless community out of the park. During these sweeps, unhoused people lose vital belongings like food, warm clothes, personal documents and medication. The sweeps are devastating and put the lives of the unhoused at higher risk for violence. With the number of unhoused people far exceeding the available shelter beds, the ruling class is waging an open war against poor, disabled and displaced workers.
After the successful shutdown, organizers and community members brought the protest to the nearby office of City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell to demand an end to these inhumane sweeps.
“The unhoused along with the housed, standing in solidarity, we decided that we’ve had enough. We’ve been on the defensive for a couple of weeks. We decided if there was going to be a sweep we were going to show out, we were going to have tents, we were going to put them near Mitch O’Farrell’s office, put them by the apartments that have been calling the cops [on the encampments] all the time,” said Brendan, an organizer with Street Watch LA.
The activists were unable to get a meeting with O’Farrell. O’Farrell, who represents Echo Park, is responsible for pushing a reform to Municipal Code 41.18, which would criminalize the homeless and severely restrict their access to public space. Meanwhile, O’Farrell has also accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from large real-estate developers responsible for rapid gentrification of the area.
Attacks on safety net programs
With Trump’s attacks on important safety net programs like Medicaid, food stamps and public housing, it is becoming more and more difficult for the working class to avoid homelessness. As Brendan explained: “We’re all three paychecks away from being houseless. We’re not three paychecks away from being a billionaire. This is all of our fight whether it’s with the city or it’s with your landlord.”
This kind of solidarity between the unhoused and housed communities outside of Skid Row is significant and can only accelerate the movement towards guaranteed housing. Renters can only benefit from joining ranks and realizing that they have more in common with their unhoused neighbors than they do with the landlords, the politicians, or the developers.