LA Community Unites to Stop Massive Homeless Sweep

Sanitation Sweep protest

Organizers use their bodies to prevent sanitation crews from sweeping away the Echo Park Lake unhoused community on January 24, 2020.


On January 23, more than a dozen organizers and unhoused residents nervously congregated near the northwest corner of Echo Park Lake. Community members were recently informed that after 10:30pm, they would be cited and possibly arrested for being in the park after hours. As of 11pm, there were no signs of law enforcement. It seemed like they would be safe for at least the night. A 7:30am scheduled sanitation sweep would threaten the group the following morning.

Just as everybody let out a sigh of relief, an LAPD patrol car pulled into a parking lot near the encampment. However, when it saw the group and media approaching, it scurried away. To insure the safety of their unhoused neighbors, organizers decided to camp in the park with them that night.

The next day at 7:30am, more community members and several media outlets joined the encampment.

“This has become our home,” Lloyd Edward said while addressing the media during a press conference that Friday. “Having community and connection to those who care about us, is an integral part of our future success.”

Press conference during sanitation sweep

Lloyd Edward addresses the media during a press conference in Echo Park lake on Friday January 24, 2020.

A couple years ago, Edward relocated from Kansas City where he worked as a French-product support specialist for seven years.

“I worked for GE. I’ve handled JC Penny accounts, I’ve handled MGM accounts in Vegas, I’ve dealt with big time companies,” he said.

Edward fell in love with California and on a whim, decided to move.

“I made the mistake of not planning ahead. I thought I could just come out to California and just find a job. But it wasn’t that easy at all,” he admitted.

After moving to Los Angeles, Edward floated around for a few months while surviving off of a small savings. He quickly ran out of money and eventually found himself homeless and broke. After working for seven years, Edward had never imagined himself living on the streets. “I wasn’t even aware that there was a housing crisis [in California]. I’ve never been homeless in my life, so I didn’t know what that meant,” Edward said.

He eventually settled in Skid Row where he spent a few months at the Weingart Center.

“They took care of me there. But after Weingart, there were no more shelters that I could stay at,” Edward explained. Others say that shelters are often dangerous, unsanitary and/or full.

Like many of the unhoused residents of Echo Park Lake, Edward is on a waiting list for housing, a process that can take several years. Some members of the community already have section 8 vouchers. But they haven’t found a landlord that will accept them.

While waiting for housing, the unhoused community asked for permission to stay in Echo Park Lake without being harassed.

Demand to be treated equally

After the action at Echo Park Lake organizers marched to City Council member Mitch O’Farrell’s office. Employees at the office refuse to speak to them and threaten to call the police.

In an open-letter to Council member Mitch O’Farrell, the encampment listed several demands.

  1. Don’t gawk at us and film us as if we were in a freak show
  2. Don’t pollute our living space or the environment of the park
  3. Do not harass and criminalize us, but accept us as members of the community
  4. Do not intimidate us with late night police raids
  5. No more frequent and unpredictable “clean ups”

“This is family,” proclaimed Ayman Ahmed, 26, during the press conference Friday morning. “We have a community not only of unhoused but of housed.”

His speech was interrupted by a park ranger passing by in an SUV. He used a loudspeaker to announce that a scheduled sanitation cleaning was about to commence. Ahmed shifted gears drawing the press conference to a close: “I’m in war mode, I need to get ready for the LAPD.”

Sweep Protest

A park ranger passes by in a SUV to announce that a sanitation clean is about to begin on January 24, 2020.

Ayman Ahmed talks about sanitation sweeps

Ayman Ahmed, 26, in Echo Park Lake on Sunday January 26, 2020.

Ahmed grew up in Northern Virginia near Fairfax.

He moved to Los Angeles two and a half years ago to pursue a career in health and fitness. Ahmed touched down in Venice Beach where he worked at a hostel near the ocean in exchange for housing. But after about two years of working there, Ahmed was let go. The next day he became unhoused.

For more than six months, Ahmed drifted around the west side.

“At first I didn’t have a tent so I was just outside with my backpack and a blanket,” he explained.

Ahmed spent several months sleeping rough in parking lots with a friend he met on the streets. They were eventually pushed out of the Venice/Santa Monica area due to constant harassment from the Santa Monica Police Department.

“Two young black men on the streets of Santa Monica. Santa Monica Police just kept messing with us. One day, it just became too much,” he said. Santa Monica Police gave them a “serious scare” and they realized it wasn’t safe on the west side anymore.

That’s when they discovered the Echo Park Lake encampment.

“We used to come to a reggae club right up the street here. So, we knew there were a lot of tents in [Echo Park Lake], so we said, ‘let’s just go to Echo,’” Ahmed said.

Ahmed has been staying in Echo Park Lake now for a couple months. He spends most of his time “working out, rapping and getting to God,” he said. “I learned early on to get a gym membership,” he said explaining that training keeps him healthy and provides consistency in his life. Plus, it gives him a chance to shower regularly.

Despite his situation, Ahmed is surprisingly enthusiastic about life. He’s even learned to embrace his situation.

“The amount of growth I’ve been able to experience being outside, I’ve come to really appreciate it and be grateful. It strengthened me in a lot of ways,” he admitted.

Since moving to Echo Park Lake, Ahmed said, “I made a family out here.” He points out the closeness of the encampment during an interview with Invisible People on Sunday afternoon, two days after the massive sweep. The group sits closely in a circle together, laughing and socializing with one another. Then Ahmed points to people who are likely housed and visiting the park: They appear to be more isolated and alone.

Senior officers listen to the demands of unhoused residents

Senior officers, Lopez, Davalos and Palazzolo listen to the demands of the unhoused residents at Echo Park Lake on January 24, 2020.

park ranger watches as sanitation workers throw out a homeless person belongings in Echo Park Lake

A park ranger watches as sanitation workers throw out a homeless person belongings in Echo Park Lake on January 24, 2020.

Park ranger tells organizers I like my job during sanitation sweep

A park ranger tells organizers and unhoused residents, _I like my job,_ in the middle of a sanitation sweep on January 24, 2020.

On Friday, LASAN and law enforcement threatened to break up Ahmed’s new family.

Shortly after the press conference concluded, an army of park rangers, L.A. Sanitation workers and later LAPD officers, descended on the north section of Echo Park Lake.

Organizers and unhoused residents quickly banded together to create a human barrier between the encampment and sanitation workers.

But instead of going after the main encampment near the west side of the park, sanitation workers and park rangers started with a smaller encampment on the northeast side of the park.

Word quickly spread and the coalition of housed and unhoused split between the main encampment and the smaller encampment. A couple tents and belongings from the small encampment were tossed into a dump truck despite resistance from the coalition.

From there, several dump trucks, track loaders and teams of sanitation workers made their way from the eastside to the westside, where Ahmed and Edward stay. There they were met by organizers who still maintained somewhat of a barrier around the encampment.

Members of the coalition sat on the ground to block off the trucks paths about halfway to the westside encampment. Others used their bodies to interfere with sanitation workers trying to confiscate tents and belongings by hand.

After a long standoff, the coalition successfully got the city to back down without any arrests or violence. In the end, the sanitation crews agreed to only pick up trash and leaves.

For now the encampment is safe.

Ahmed believes that if it wasn’t for the community support, things would have played out much differently. “The amount of community we had with us Friday–moms with their strollers, families, so many different organizations–that’s really what stopped them,” Ahmed said.

Friday’s action was reminiscent of demonstrations during the civil rights movement of the late 1960’s. It was “an MLK moment”, as Ahmed puts it, and possibly a sign of what’s to come.

City officials are doubling down on criminalizing the homeless through the overhauled CARE program. Last week, LASAN proposed several changes to the program including full enforcement of LAMC 56.11, the ordinance that bans sleeping on the sidewalks during the day.

Mass organization and physically (but peacefully) fighting back against sweeps might be the only way to change them.

“Friday, this community unified and showed that the LAPD, park rangers and L.A. Sanitation combined can’t deal with the people united,” Ahmed concluded.

Unhoused residents speak with Captain Alfonso Lopez of LAPD

Unhoused residents speak with Captain Alfonso Lopez of LAPD about their experiences leading up to the sweep on January 24, 2020.


self portrait point mogu march 2018

Lexis-Olivier Ray

     

Lexis-Olivier Ray is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles and a regular contributor with L.A. TACO.

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