Forum explores Echo Park’s growing homeless problem

A homeless person living in the Alvarado underpass at the 101 Freeway.

A homeless person living in the Alvarado underpass at the 101 Freeway.


ECHO PARK — Barry was covered with feces and injured after a car ran over his leg while he slept near the Auto Zone on Alvarado. “We didn’t want him to die in the street. It was cold,” said Gabrielle Taylor with the City Attorney’s office. But after Barry was treated for his injury, he was soon back sleeping on the streets of Echo Park by New Year’s, looking thinner and worse than before.

The story of Barry, who was known for sitting in a wheelchair outside the Rite Aid drug store, was one of several shared by city officials, business owners and residents during a forum held last week to discuss homeless issues in Echo Park. Andrew Garsten, president of the Echo Park Improvement Assn., which hosted the forum, said Echo Park has seen an uptick in homelessness in the last year, especially at 101 Freeway at Alvarado Street, the Clinton Street staircase as well as in neighborhood parks and other locations.

Officials did not say how many homeless people are living in Echo Park, but migration from Downtown’s Skid Row is playing a role in the neighborhood’s rising number of street people, one official said. Officials discussed the challenges of housing and caring for the homeless as well as cleaning up their encampments.

“My point for a topic like tonight’s is knowledge equals empowerment,” Garsten said after the meeting. “To empower people living there.”

Ryan Bell, director of community engagement at People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), which will be conducting an annual homeless count later this month, notes that the region’s homeless population has gone down since the economic downturn in 2007 and 2008, when it was upwards of 60,000. The current official number is about 30,000, but he added that the actual number is most likely higher with people “hidden in cars” and “couch-surfing.”

Bell told the audience of about 20 people gathered at Williams Hall last Thursday night that most of the persons living on the streets used to be equal cases of those suffering from substance abuse or mental health problems. Now, what his organization mostly finds are those with mental illness.

The mentally ill living on the streets are frequently the victims of “patient dumping,” where hospitals release homeless patients back to the streets rather than to the care of family, a homeless shelter or an alternative solution. Barry was mostly likely involved in patient dumping, said Taylor of the City Attorney’s office.

Many officials described the lengthy process that can take months to clean up homeless encampments on public property, including parkland, sidewalks and freeway underpasses. Encampments in alleys  adjacent to homes and some, just outside bedroom windows, take priority, said Adam Bass, field deputy for District 13 City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.

Bass said that the city needs to increase the amount of affordable housing to deal with the homeless problem.

“It won’t solve the homelessness facing us today, but as a legacy, will help solve it in the next 10 to 15 years,” Bass said. “We’re working on a long term solution.”

As for Barry, he is now being assisted by social workers and being cared for at a skilled nursing facility, Taylor said.

“We’ve contacted his family and hope to lead him on a better path and protect him.”

Homeless encampment on Sunset Boulevard

Homeless encampment on Sunset Boulevard

Matt Sanderson has been a journalist, photographer and digital media producer for nearly eight years. A native of Rhode Island, he received his bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of New Hampshire and moved to Los Angeles in 2012 through a job transfer with Patch.com/AOL.


  1. Sadly, most homeless don’t want any help. There’s a church just 1/2 a block from this location that helps and houses homeless people. Homeless don’t like rules, and don’t want to get off drugs or alcohol, etc. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it.

  2. As Echo Park experiences an influx of 20 somethings wanting the experience of living in a “trendy” atmosphere. We have become hosts to a new wave of young people with ready income moving in. That puts money into our economy and work for developers…great. The downside, this action is displacing more of our people who can no longer afford to reside in the town they grew up in. Many folks on fixed incomes have become displaced and have no where to go but to the familiar streets. What are we doing to those that would like to remain in the homes there families struggled to provide for future members? This is indeed a sad page in the history books of Echo Park.

    • There is more affordable housing in areas close by. Just because rent goes up doesn’t force you to live on the streets. You’d have to be one stubborn person to say “I grew up here, so even if I can’t afford a house, I’m going to on the streets!” To the old families that have homes, their property value has gone up more than double. If you rent and don’t buy, this is just how real estate works. The sad page in the history of Echo Park was probably during the late 80’s and 90’s when gangs ruled the neighborhood. I wouldn’t call “putting money into our economy and work for developers” a sad page. But go ahead, blame the new 20 somethings moving into the nieghborhood for all the homeless people…makes complete sense.

    • Nicer housing isn’t causing homelessness. It’s much more complicated than that. People who cannot afford the rents in
      Echo Park don’t automatically live on the street. They move east to east LA or boyle heights or to Glassell Park or to Westlake. People who are homeless have many reasons to be homeless such as mental illness, drug addiction, etc. Please don’t wrongly blame this on gentrification.

    • Well it certainly doesn’t help when so many people in the community oppose conventional urban development along Sunset.

      The bigger picture (beyond hipsters and gentrification) is that the middle class is moving back to the city. It’s happening all over the country, and if we want to keep housing prices from rising at such a rapid pace, we really need to rethink our zoning codes (i.e. less parking and more density around our transit lines, for starters.)

      There’s certainly no shortage of strip malls and surface parking lots in the neighborhood that could be re-developed into mixed use mid-rise buildings. That would increase supply of new market rate housing, and help ease the shortage that is jacking up rents on all the older housing stock.

    • the homeless influx into echo park is not people displaced from their rentals by gentrification. it is skid row denizens displaced by the ejection of these folks from skid row. there are shelters and living situations available. many of the mentaly ill and/or substance-addicted people making up a signifcant percentage of this population refuse to avail themselves of it. the result is, filth is now echo park’s to contend with.

  3. I’ve lived in the area for two years and have seen the homeless population increase exponentially since then. echo park is a beautiful area and there’s room for everyone, but the city has not taken any responsibility for the homeless.

    With an on-set of homeless comes the need for better sanitation, police services, and care for city property (bus stops, parks), as well as aid for private properties/businesses affected by them. None of that has happened, which is the real problem here.

    — Bus passengers waiting in the rain because the bus stop has been taken over by homeless
    — Tipped trash cans, lack of public trashcans (there should be one on every corned on Sunset, period.)
    — Abandoned Shopping Carts
    — Dumping — There was a full, tipped over shopping cart in front of Walgreens (on public sidewalk) about a weeks before the city cleaned it up despite 311 calls

    Again, the only time I see cops in the neighborhood is directing traffic for Dodger games. Not to deal with gangs, graffiti, or provide any community services.

    *** Walgreens parking lot and nearby bus stops are filled with regulars blaring music, sleeping, leaving tell-tale urine and feces stains

    *** The Vons parking lot and the sidewalk outside it.

    *** Echo Park Lake restroom and sinks fully taken over with bags of belongings and homeless “storage.” I couldn’t even wash my hands if I tried.

    *** Elysian Park also has about 4 visible encampments near the Scott Ave fire road. I can say there were zero last year and now there are 4 very clear camps, visible from the road, that have remained in the same location all year.

    I’m getting used to the stains, the smells, being heckled for change, the trash, the people on the stairs in front of my building each night and leaving stains that WE have to hose off daily. I’m getting used to diverting my hike in the park to avoid being alone on a trail surrounded by encampments full of homeless men and beer cans.

    • The same can be said for Lincoln Heights, Hermon, Cypress Park, and Highland Park too. I don’t know what is going on in Boyle Heights, but my guess is that their numbers of living-in-their-filth homeless people have increased as well. The shelters in DTLA and Pasadena were never enough and now that the open air hell hole of Skid Row is getting cleaned up it is time for us to be adults and build a network of either shelters or a housing-first program in the areas around downtown that are getting all the people who would have normally lived on Skid Row or thereabouts.

    • I’ve been here 12 years and I would take this any day to the sterile streets of beverly hills. Everyone needs to find their place to live and go. The rest … stay and work with the times and most importantly with compassion.

  4. The pictured camp on Sunset and Douglas is getting increasingly difficult to walk by. As he accrues more and more possessions, it’s become more and more of an eyesore. It is a sad situation. He needs help. I’m trying to remain patient. I’m willing to reach out to whoever needed. He has been there since August. An evening dog walk shouldn’t be an obstacle course meets a haunted house — complete with occasional terrifying yelling at my dog.

  5. Let’s ship them out to the EAST COAST !

    • Are you crazy? If you had a choice, which coast will you choose? They are all coming to southern California and we know why! The politicians should add this problem to their agendas!

  6. The scary issue with these current homeless in Echo Park is that they are mentally ill. Having rage spewed at you as you try to walk down Sunset Blvd is quite frightening. In the past I have been verbally abused and swung at by different homeless men on the street. Once I was hit by a homeless man when I refused to give him money. It is not safe for anyone to have these people living on the street, themselves included. In the last year and a half our quality of life has diminished here in Echo Park. There is a distinct lack of response from the council office and from police. Our beautiful Elysian Park is filled with encampments, broken glass and graffiti from underage youths drinking in the park. In the past we received quick response from both CD 13 and Senior Lead Officers from LAPD. Now nothing. It is beyond frustrating.

  7. I just called and will continue to call until we see changes. Please do the same. Don’t give up! Don’t let them rest! We cannot allow the success of downtown to destroy us. Echo Park must become the squeaky wheel!

    Mayor Eric Garcetti
    (213) 978-0600
    Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell
    213-207-3015 (Sunset Office)

    • Thanks, Jocko, for taking time to post phone/email contact information for Garcetti and O’Farrell. Mayor Garcetti is supposedly concentrating on “the basics,” and the issue of homeless people taking over sidewalks and parks is a very basic one. It took weeks (months?) to finally get the City to remove the possessions of the homeless man who had taken over the Clinton stairway, which had been unsafe and nearly impassable. I’ll be making contact with those offices tomorrow and hope others will do the same.

    • Mayor don’t do squat about anything

    • I posted an email to Gil Cedillo on his website. Just received following:

      “Good Afternoon,

      “Thank you for reaching out to our office regarding the encampment on Sunset and Douglas. It has been cleaned as of Monday of this week. ”

      Melinda Ramos-Alatorre
      Field Deputy
      Office of Council Member Gilbert Cedillo
      Los Angeles City Council, District 1
      200 N. Spring St., Room 470
      Los Angeles, CA 90012
      Highland Park:(323)550-1538
      City Hall: (213) 473-7001

  8. I’m definitely sympathetic to the homeless population; but, maintaining public spaces and pathways clean and free of obstructions is vital to keeping a safe community for everyone! It is not acceptable to ENDANGER pedestrians’ safety by allowing these encampments to encroach on public spaces. It’s quite apparent that the homeless population has their advocates/supporters who challenged legislation in the Court System’s and won. Yet, if the City Attorney had presented a better argument with valid points regarding the following topics: SAFETY, HAZARDS, PUBLIC’S RIGHTS and ACCESSIBILITY to public spaces….the outcome would have been different. The public must demand from Government Officials, City Attorneys, and Judges a change to what is quite obviously a safety issue for everyone that can easily result in another concern: DISEASES and PLAGUES!!! What’s next?

    • Ironically, one of the leading legal advocates for homeless encampments lives in a west side neighborhood that bans the homeless.

  9. January 29th, Echo Park and neighboring communities will be holding a point in time count (part of a national project) of the homeless. The information gathered from this count will dictate how services and resources are allocated. More volunteers are needed- If you are interested in helping out please visit http://lahsa.nationbuilder.com/metro_los_angeles

    Want to help out even more” Both the Silver Lake and Echo Park neighborhood Councils are participating in United Ways Home for Good to insure our homeless community members are offered the same services and support as the homeless in Los Angeles, Pasadena and Santa Monica. This housing.
    want more info: homelesscoalition@silverlakenc.org

  10. The county probably needs to be involved because we need a Ted Hayes type village on a grand scale where people can live and be provided with bathrooms, showers, medical and psychological services. A place where people can park the vehicles in which they are living and hook up to sanitation I have no idea how it could be financed but tax incentives usually bring forth donations. It’s working in other cities.
    Reducing homelessness requires a more focused effort: Daily News Editorial

    • The city of Ontario tried that experiment and it turned into a disaster. Within nine months the tent city went from 20 residents to 400. Jail,rehab or mental institutions are the answer. These people setting up under bridges or on the street are not people who are just “down on their luck”.

      • @Martin Arredondo Do we still have public mental institutions? If so many or most of the homeless may belong in them as well as many who are in prison because of no alternative. it’s complicated to be sure but much can be learned from previous failures. The criminal and/or mentally handicapped must be separated out from the population as a whole and dealt with differently, probably an open legal situation at the moment. This is not easy but it’s been allowed to get this bad by the powers that be. Had downtown not become fashionable they would still be there. Now they are being herded to Echo Park. We have to get rid of them, hopefully in a humanitarian manner. Sometimes politicians ignore all but threats of unrest. Highland Park is getting all their attention not because of those fears. Echo Park has to stop being “dainty.” Kick ass and take names!

      • Sending the homeless to mental institutions (or ignoring them until they inevitably end up in the ER or County) is a helluva lot more expensive on the taxpayers, then simply building more shelters and services within the community.

  11. All the stolen shopping carts on the streets make it easier for the homeless to make these encampments.

    I cut or remove the wheels of abandoned shopping carts and call sanitation bulk pickup to remove the rest. (Two wrenches or a hacksaw does it, hint, hint.)

  12. Have any of you received any response from your calls and emails yet?

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