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Los Angeles Sparks Tension With Shutdown Of Echo Park Homeless Encampment

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Los Angeles, one of the city's largest homeless encampments is being broken up. Last night, hundreds of protesters faced off with police officers.

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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Our streets. Whose streets? Our streets. Whose streets? Our streets. Whose streets?

SHAPIRO: The encampment at Echo Park Lake near downtown LA has become a flashpoint in the city's homelessness crisis. Reporter Anna Scott of KCRW is with us now. Hi, Anna.

ANNA SCOTT, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Paint a picture for us. I used to go for runs around Echo Park Lake, and my sense is that is not a place you would go for a run today. Why is this one encampment so contentious right now?

SCOTT: Yeah, you do still see people running, but there are a lot more tents probably than when you were last here. The big thing to know is that there are 41,000 people or thereabouts at least experiencing homelessness in the city of LA proper, 66,000 in LA County. There's a huge lack of affordable housing, and a lot of people who are homeless are also unsheltered. So the problem is very visible in Los Angeles, unlike some other cities.

And this park sits right at the intersection of a lot of the tensions that come up around that. It's a big encampment. It's a very popular park. And the unhoused people there, many feel that they've built a community in a city with few options while many housed residents who live nearby are angry at how the encampment has transformed this public space.

SHAPIRO: We heard a little bit of that confrontation. Tell us about what happened last night.

SCOTT: Last night, the city started preparing to close the park completely tonight - Thursday night - and to clear everyone out. There are some people still there. And there had been protesters throughout the day there yesterday. That was growing in the evening. And after dark, you started to see a massive police presence around the park, which led to some really tense standoffs, while inside, city workers started putting up fences to close the park off and posting notices saying that in 24 hours, everyone would have to leave - including unhoused residents like Zack Coughlin. He's someone I talked to there. He lives in a tent with his wife. And he said that they do want to go indoors.

ZACK COUGHLIN: We're still just waiting for housing, but unfortunately, we are stuck on the street still. So we came back here to Echo Park because in the four years we've been here in LA, it is the only safe place for us to be.

SCOTT: They've lived at the park full-time for about seven months now.

SHAPIRO: Wow, seven months. So if the city removes these 175 or so people from the park, where do they expect everybody to go?

SCOTT: Yeah. There are way fewer people there now because in recent weeks, the city has been working with homeless service providers leading up to this to get people either into shelters or temporary hotel rooms rented by the city. Mitch O'Farrell is the council member who represents the area.

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MITCH O'FARRELL: Every belonging that is left at the lake will be stored safely for people to reclaim it, should they want to. We're taking care of any animal companions that are there. We're providing shuttle service and a really safe environment - in some cases, permanent homes for people here.

SCOTT: In some cases, but most people who are getting assistance are going to the temporary hotels.

SHAPIRO: Temporary as you say. And as the number of people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles just continues to grow, what is the city's long-term plan here?

SCOTT: That's a question that applies not just to Echo Park Lake, but to thousands of people who have been moved into this hotel program, which is set to expire September 30. It's supposed to be a bridge into permanent housing, but as we know, that's in short supply. So, you know, we come back full circle to what's driving this crisis in the first place. And I'll be following all of this as it unfolds in the coming months.

SHAPIRO: And I'll look forward to your coverage. Reporter Anna Scott, who covers housing and homelessness in Los Angeles for member station KCRW.

Thank you.

SCOTT: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRENTEMOLLER'S "MISS YOU") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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