The last two people to remain at an Echo Park Lake homeless encampment after two nights of protests there have been arrested by police, the LAPD said Friday afternoon.
The arrests concluded a relocation that prompted two nights of contentious protests over the clearing of the encampment to make way for a $500,000 renovation. Protesters and police clashed Thursday for a second night at the park north of downtown Los Angeles. The park was closed this week and city crews put up fencing ahead of the planned cleanup and repair work.
Officers were deployed Wednesday and Thursday night to help efforts by Councilman Mitch O'Farrell and Los Angeles Park Rangers.
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Police declared an unlawful assembly about 8 p.m. Thursday at Lemoyne Street and Park Avenue, in front of O'Farrell's district office, after "several instigators in the crowd demonstrated a willful intent to disrupt the peaceful activity and began to use strobe lights against the officers, an activity that has the potential to cause significant injury to the eyes."
According to the Los Angeles Police Department, 182 people were arrested for failure to disperse during Thursday night's protests. The department also said officers deployed three rounds of less-lethal 37 mm projectiles, one round of less-than-lethal 40mm projectile and six rounds of less-lethal bean bags.
"I think a lot of people probably who were protesting didn't know that there were only two people last night even left in the park, and those people have kind of refused to go, but hopefully, we're optimistic and we've given more time to those folks,'' Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has remained mostly silent, told reporters Friday.
Several protesters were taken into custody, according to multiple media reports, but an exact number was not immediately available from police. A Los Angeles Times reporter and two reporters from the Knock LA website were among those detained, but all three were released.
O'Farrell urged "calm and cooperation" at Echo Park as "we continue our work to move the final few people experiencing homelessness from the park into transitional housing before the park space closes temporarily for repairs."
"We made significant progress (Thursday) toward our goal of housing everyone at the park and moved an additional 32 unhoused individuals into transitional housing," O'Farrell said in a statement issued at 10:34 p.m. "Almost 200 of the park's unhoused population has accepted and been placed in shelter options through Project Roomkey, Project Homekey, A Bridge Home and winter shelter."
"I'm happy to report that we have shelter available for anyone who is seeking to be housed tonight. The (Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority) is ready to engage them in the process to move them into transitional housing with supportive services and medical care if needed. Those who decline this offer for housing will be unable to stay after the park closure is in effect."
But advocates for the homeless blasted the city's effort to remove the encampment, saying it had grown into a safe haven for people with no other options.
Two men who remained in the park said during an Instagram livestream just after midnight that they planned to remain in the park until they were arrested or forced to leave by late Friday morning.
Councilman Mike Bonin tweeted Thursday night, "A neighborhood in lockdown. Hundreds of cops in riot gear. Reporters being zip-tied and detained. Protesters being kettled and arrested. This is a disgrace and it did not have to happen. It's a shameful day for Los Angeles."
LAPD Chief Michel Moore said Wednesday department personnel "will remain in the area around Echo Park as the fencing is completed … Echo Park remains closed to the public and those final remaining persons experiencing homelessness are being provided housing assistance and transportation and must leave the park following last night's notice of the park's pending closure for repairs."
As fencing was erected around the park, Moore said late Wednesday night that no one else would be permitted inside the park, and those who remained inside had 24 hours to leave. He noted that "housing resources are being provided to everyone."
"This is a phenomenal situation that's developing, and right now we have the best professional outreach workers, Urban Alchemy, out there fanning the park to make sure the last few remaining people experiencing homelessness will accept the services that we're offering, and we can get them into safe shelter as well," O'Farrell told reporters outside the park.
O'Farrell said his office contracted with Urban Alchemy in December to begin outreach work to those living in the park and begin to identify housing solutions. He said he was committed to finding alternative housing for everyone before temporarily closing the park for repair work
"Since the pandemic began and even before that, knowing the conditions at Echo Park Lake and the realities in the situation there, my team and I set out to make sure that even though the park needed repairs back then, that in order to do this, my non-negotiable was that we would find housing solutions for everyone at the lake no matter how they got there, and there are all sorts of stories about how people arrived," he said.