Los Angeles, CA

After Removing 35.7 Tons of Solid Waste From the Homeless, Echo Park Lake Has Never Been Cleaner

Elle Silver

Regardless of whether you think it was right or wrong to kick the homeless out of the encampment they built around Echo Park Lake, the city has cleaned up the recreation area to a standard of cleanliness I've never seen before.

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Paddles boats on Echo Park Lake at sunset.Credit: author

I visited Echo Park Lake the other evening. The grass was clear of any debris. Previous to the pandemic, there was often trash in the park. I saw no litter anywhere, no plastic bottles floating in the water, nor soda cans or food wrappers on the lawn.

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Lotus flowers on Echo Park Lake.Credit: author

I could enjoy the beauty of the lotus flowers growing around the lake in a way that I don't feel like I was ever able to do before. I also watched as families picnicked on the grass again.

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Families picnicking on the grass.Credit: author

This was a welcome sight after months of sheltering in place inside my home. Yes, I understand I should feel grateful that I didn't lose my job or any loved ones to Covid during the pandemic. I also had a home where I could live during the duration of the coronavirus outbreak.

Still, I don't think the two hundred unhoused people who set up camp in Echo Park Lake for many months during the pandemic should have been able to live there indefinitely. I believe the city has done a great job of cleaning up Echo Park Lake so we can all enjoy it again.

In fact, I've never seen it more pristine.

The homeless encampment at Echo Park Lake during the pandemic.

Tents began to pop up around the perimeter of Echo Park Lake early in the pandemic. The City of Los Angeles had halted its program of clearing the sidewalks of homeless encampments. With people losing their jobs overnight, many more people lost their homes as well.

It's no doubt some of these newly homeless people ended up in tents around Echo Park Lake. Before long, this once favorite destination for families to picnic and use the paddle boats became home to two hundred unhoused people.

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Tents around Echo Park Lake.Barry Lander/ The Eastsider

The squatters dried their laundry on lines strung between the trees. They cooked outside and built fires at night to keep warm. Authorities worried about the health of these individuals, living without running water or adequate sanitation facilities.

This was a community in despair. The encampment soon became the site of drug overdoses, assaults, and shootings.

Residents living around the lake complained of noise and crime. No, these unhoused people had nowhere else to go. They created a community around the lake that helped ameliorate the misery of their existence.

But the creation of their newfound home came at the expense of nearby residents. It also came at the expense of those of us who used to enjoy the park for recreation.

During the pandemic, the paddle boats were closed. People were no longer picnicking in groups. But as the city slowly lifted some of its restrictions come March 2021, officials finally ordered the homeless encampment to be cleared.

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Unhoused woman Valerie Zeller packing up her belongings after she is told to leave the park.Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Polaris

Echo Park Lake's unhoused community members were given twenty-four hours to clean up their tents and leave. This led to protests and tension between the unhoused, their advocates, and the police. The city won the battle, and 200 homeless people were removed from the encampment around the lake.

A $600,000 repair and restoration project began to renovate and repair the Echo Park Lake recreation area. Part of this restoration included removing 35.7 tons of solid waste from the location.

What is the result of our taxpayer dollars hard at work? As I said, I've never seen the park cleaner.

Echo Park Lake has been transformed into an urban gem.

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Paddles boats on Echo Park Lake, Downtown L.A. in the distance.Credit: author

It's unfortunate that the park's cleanup came at the expense of displacing vulnerable people. No, not everyone is pleased with the way the city went about kicking out the homeless from the park. Was it necessary for hundreds of cops in riot gear to show up to clear out the unhoused, and did they really need to arrest protesters and even reporters?

No.

Though the homeless were provided alternative shelter, many were sent to hotels in neighborhoods miles away from Echo Park, and therefore far from anyone they knew. They felt isolated from the community they had built in the park during the pandemic.

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Fencing around the park at Echo Park Lake.Credit: zaptapper

On my walk through the park the other evening, there were still reminders of the encampment and its ultimate expulsion. Fencing had been erected overnight as police prepared to force the homeless out of the park. This fencing still remains.

On the placard welcoming people to the lake, a poster asking "Who?" was still attached to the sign.

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Credit: zaptapper

No, Echo Park Lake no longer welcomes the homeless but it does welcome you and me. And in my opinion, it's never been cleaner.

Barry Lank photo source: The Eastsider.

Francine Orr photo source: ABCNews.

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I'm a relationships expert with a focus on post-divorce dating and family. Everything I've learned about love, I've learned the hard way. You can learn from my mistakes.

Los Angeles, CA
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