LOS ANGELES (KTTV/CNS) - A report published Wednesday by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy found that only 17 people are in long- term housing out of the 183 unhoused people who were removed from Echo Park Lake last March and put on a list for placements.
The report, titled"(Dis)Placement: The Fight for Housing and Community after Echo Park Lake," analyzed data provided by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
Of the 17 people currently in housing, four found housing on their own, four were placed in Project Homekey sites, four were given subsidized rentals and five were provided with permanent supportive housing, according to the report. The report classifies housing as rapid re-housing, permanent supportive housing, Project Homekey, Housing Choice and Emergency Housing Vouchers.
The report also said the whereabouts of 82 of the Echo Park Lake residents were unknown to LAHSA as of Feb. 9, and 15 had returned to the street.
Forty-eight people are waiting for housing, many in Project Roomkey sites, according to the report, which added that six others have died since last March. The report does not include information about the remaining 15 people.
"Many of the Echo Park Lake placements were in Project Roomkey, a temporary program that utilizes hotel rooms as non-congregate shelter but presented to residents facing displacement as a guaranteed path to housing," the report said.
"We find a churning system of project enrollments that gives the lie to shelter-resistance. While the unhoused are willing to repeatedly respond to street outreach and enroll in programs, the system is a shuffle, where people are moved from one placement to another creating the appearance of activity but with little change in their housing status."
Researchers interviewed 41 of the park's former residents, four of whom were housed, but the report noted that they were housed "mainly through social networks and community support."
Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who came under fire from many homeless advocates during and after the clearing of the park's encampments, has championed the effort as "a very successful housing operation."
Echo Park residents share their thoughts on the homeless population in the area
Days before the closure, his office announced the city was planning to close the park and clear out its residents to perform more than $500,000 in repairs and restoration caused by people living in the park. Some of the neighborhood's residents had also complained about the group's trash and said they no longer felt safe visiting the park, and city officials said multiple deaths and instances of sexual abuse had occurred in the encampment.
The removal effort on March 25, 2021 was met with large protests, in which hundreds of officers descended on Echo Park and arrested about 180 people, including journalists. Protesters blasted the city for forcing the park's residents out of an area that had grown into what they called a supportive community during the pandemic -- including a vegetable garden, working showers and a shared kitchen.
Ananya Roy, the Director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, recalls the day around 183 unhoused residents were moved from Echo Park Lake in March of 2021.
"It was a searing moment in the collective memory of Los Angeles and that displacement was justified by politicians through the political claim that all displaced residents will be in stable permanent housing within a year," said Roy.
Roy said she wanted to test the claim to see if the unhoused residents were provided with housing. Along with tracking the residents on their own, they also used data from the Los Angeles Housing Service Authority, LAHSA.
"We had exclusive access to LAHSA data. Our findings as you know are pretty dismal and I will say it gives us no joy that we have these findings because I had hoped for much better outcomes than this," said Roy.
Roy said their data shows seven people have passed away since the park closure, including one person who passed Wednesday.
"The large number of people were placed in what is an emergency shelter program, Project Roomkey, and we all had a lot of hopes about Project Roomkey but it turned out that these temporary placements do not necessarily provide a path to permanent housing, and there are a lot of deaths in Project Roomkey, including [overdoses]," said Roy.
Roy said the conditions within the programs are also not ideal.
"Large numbers of people in these temporary programs do not have case management. There is nothing that is going to take them to permanent housing. These programs are also carceral, by which I mean the people are policed in them, subject to curfews and rules, stripped of their rights, and easily expelled so it is very easy to be pushed out of these programs," said Roy.
Roy said people are being "shuffled," and to get temporary housing for the Echo Park Lake residents within Project Roomkey, other unhoused residents had to be denied housing.
"Even with the 183 placements, the outreach workers had to cut the Project Roomkey lines in order to place people in these scarce rooms so the folks who were eligible for Project Roomkey in fact were left out because Echo Park Lake was targeted as a visible encampment, and these folks were rushed to the front of the line but of course at the end of the day, even if they were rushed to the front of the line, they're still not housed," said Roy.
Will Sens is one of the former Echo Park Lake residents who was placed into temporary housing with Project Roomkey. He remains at the LA Grand Hotel downtown one year later and said the process is difficult.
"It's kind of a cruel, mean world a lot of times and it's hard to find people that care. It's easier for everyone to say they've [city leaders] got it covered, but they don't have it covered and where is all that money? It's not matching up," said Sens.
Sens started his experience with homelessness five years ago when he was living in a different state. He worked for a company that went bankrupt, and then his home was foreclosed. He said he then moved to California to live as a roommate with one of his friends. However, in 2020, he was laid off from his restaurant job where he worked as a dishwasher and cook.
"Business was really slow at my restaurant and they let me go and at the same time, the place I was staying in was zoned for an office space so I was put out. Right as COVID hit, I was on the street without a job all of a sudden and then I quickly found that Echo Park Lake was a good place to go to get supplies like food and to find other people who knew what was going on because I was housed for three years before that," said Sens.
Sens said the encampment was a community with flaws like any other community.
"There were people using drugs there, yes, but there are people using drugs everywhere. The atmosphere was welcoming there, and they worked me right into the system. Before I knew it, I was picking up trash with them and helping out. It was a nice community environment for me and my stay," said Sens.
Sens worked with the UCLA researchers on their report.
"I never thought that was coming, and I'm just tickled pink to work with them," he said.
Sens hopes the report will be eye-opening for the community.
"When people see that, I'm hoping that will be all it takes before people start stepping up and saying no more," said Sens.
Roy hopes the same.
"The criminalization of poverty has got to stop because it actually doesn't solve poverty in any way. In our city, particularly with the mayoral race on the horizon, it is important for our political leaders to stop talking about clearing encampments because that simply targets the visibility of homelessness. I think we need to understand and recognize why people are being unhoused and why they're living in encampments. This is a time actually of an extraordinary amount of new federal and state money for housing and homelessness, more money than we've seen in a long time, and that money should be invested in what is actually housing rather than temporary carceral placements that do not lead to housing," said Roy.
A coalition of faculty at USC, UCLA, UC Irvine and Occidental College came out against the clearing, writing a letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti in opposition in the days after the park was closed. The letter pointed out that most of the housing options were temporary and some were in congregate shelters amid a pandemic.
They added that some Project Roomkey residents claim they live under strict curfews and prison-like conditions while living in the city-provided hotels, and they feel like they have to "trade their autonomy and dignity for a bed."
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