Last year before Echo Park Rising, members of Street Watch LA — an initiative by Democratic Socialists of America, Los Angeles — watched as LAPD and sanitation displaced unhoused residents of our community, including veterans, to mask the damage of gentrification and sanitize the streets in advance of the festival. In 90 degree heat, we watched as a 60 year old man was denied his jug of water because "his time was up" collecting his belongings. Residents were given just 10 min to put their lives in a 60 gallon garbage bag.
Earlier, our friend Thomas was told by City officials that the sweep was cancelled, but it commenced in the afternoon anyway. Thomas moved all his belongings across the street where there were no notices for a cleanup. Sanitation waited for him to leave before going across the street and destroying all of his belongings in the garbage truck. Others lost brand new tents and bags of their clothes that they also moved to the unnoticed side of the street, after police surrounded them like a gang and told them to leave the area. When a Street Watch / DSA-LA member approached the LA Sanitation point person that day to ask why this was happening, he ignored him. City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell‘s staff member Juan Fregoso watched on.
It was one of the most devastating sweeps we had seen all summer, but it wasn’t out of the ordinary. For decades, the city of Los Angeles has addressed its mass homeless population through dehumanizing policies of criminalization, the destruction of vital personal belongings, and banishment.
As of June 2019, there were at least 58,936 unhoused people in Los Angeles County and over 36,300 in the City of Los Angeles. The number of unhoused people far exceeds the number of available shelter beds, as well as the amount of planned housing the city expects to build through Proposition HHH funds. Low-income rental units are scarce in Los Angeles, and average rents are much higher than minimum wage workers can afford. Ultimately, tens of thousands of Angelenos have nowhere else to sleep than the street.
In Los Angeles, sleeping in public space, whether in a car, a tent, or in the open, is not illegal between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.. But this legal right is under attack. Los Angeles Municipal Code 85.02 bans overnight parking in many areas, and LAMC 56.11 drastically limits the amount of personal property one can possess in public space, leading to increases in police sweeps, confiscations of vital belongings, and arrests.
It is our duty to monitor and document these abusive practices whenever possible, and to spread the word to our housed neighbors. As part of a coalition of organizations called Services Not Sweeps, we also demand significant changes to how the City approaches unhoused communities, prioritizing permanent housing and a robust public health infrastructure over wasteful, counterproductive investments in policing and criminalization.
This year, we reached out to Echo Park Rising on Facebook to voice our concerns, but organizers simply parroted city talking points that “outreach services are deployed before any posted service day at any encampment” and evaded responsibility. “All of the city services involved are the same for any other street closure around the city,” they wrote, which is precisely the problem.
We urge participating bands, businesses, and event organizers to use your voice to tell the City these abusive practices need to stop. If Echo Park Rising is about celebrating the Echo Park community, it should include all of our community — and not happen at the expense of our most vulnerable neighbors. We ask that participants and Echo Park community members sign on to endorse the demands of Services Not Sweeps, which include:
- Removing all Law Enforcement personnel from any of the City’s street cleaning teams and efforts
- Ensuring all street and sidewalk cleaning is scheduled, regular, and well publicized
- Ensuring appropriate resources are in place in advance of and during all scheduled cleaning
- Ensuring an accountability system for City street and sidewalk cleaning procedures, including a complaint/grievance process
- Improving public health infrastructure beyond street cleaning efforts, with plans and funding to increase trash services
Together, we have the power to demand change, and provide health-based solutions and resources that improve living conditions for all of us.
Open your eyes. Understand your impact. Help stop displacement.
Note: If you're signing on as an Echo Park Rising performer, please include your band name under "organization."