The city of LA closed the southern, lakeside portion of MacArthur Park on Oct. 15 for repairs and maintenance, congruent with LA city Councilmember Gil Cedillo’s efforts. However, the park’s closure forced many homeless people living in the park to move.
The recreational north side of the park will remain open to the public. Cedillo said the fence around the park will be removed following the park’s renovations.
Notices of the closure, for housed and unhoused residents in the MacArthur Park area, were taped to trees in the park late September, and a week after, a fence tracing the perimeter of the southern, lakeside area of the park erected with entry points for the public.
The Recreation and Parks Department will make infrastructural upgrades.
Tescia Uribe, chief program officer with People Assisting the Homeless, echoed many points. PATH and Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) provided the remaining homeless MacArthur Park residents with housing services up until 10:30 p.m., when the park closed.
PATH is a statewide nonprofit that focuses on homeless outreach, services and housing programs, while LAHSA is an LA County and citywide homeless service agency, dealing in similar services to PATH for homeless Angelenos.
Uribe said homeless outreach in MacArthur Park has been going on “forever” for PATH and LAHSA, and an intensive wave of homeless outreach began in January for the groups that coincided with the city closing the park. According to Cedillo’s website, LAHSA and PATH have moved 268 people “indoors” since the collaborative, intensive outreach in MacArthur Park began.
“We’ve been out here every day and through the nights and mornings,” Uribe said. “We’ve been letting folks know (about the park closing), especially folks who stay here overnight. It’s scary for folks that have been out here for a long time.”
LAPD was not present the afternoon leading into the night the park closed, and officers came only to officially close the park after 10:30 p.m., which Uribe called attention to.
“We don’t have police out here today, because we didn’t want that. We didn’t want people to feel that kind of pressure,” she said.
In March, a city sweep and closure of Echo Park Lake by Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, District 13, removed a community of homeless individuals, along with a pantry, shower and garden, from the park. O’Farrell’s sweep was rushed and swift.
Notices of Echo Park’s closure were posted in the park only a day before, and a fence lining the perimeter of the park was installed not long after. The sudden notice brought the homeless community of Echo Park and advocates of the community together for a vigil turned protest after clashes with LAPD. Unlawful assembly was declared later in the night and 182 arrests were made, according to a statement from LAPD.
The experience of the city’s sweep of Echo Park was on the minds of many people at MacArthur Park, like homeless individuals and their advocates. Uribe said she “regularly” visited MacArthur Park after Cedillo’s September motion to ensure there was no forceful action or pressure from LAPD to remove homeless people.
Gustavo Otzoy, previously a resident of the homeless Echo Park Lake community that was removed, was there to watch MacArthur Park close. He said he went to the park for the past two weeks to observe LAHSA and LAPD interactions with homeless people.
“I didn’t want the same thing that happened in Echo Park to happen again,” he said.
Since being pushed out of Echo Park, Otzoy tried the Project Roomkey housing program but said that “it is like being in jail. There is a curfew and people can come into your room whenever they want.”
Otzoy now lives in a hotel, which, he said, is much better. He became a member of Street Watch LA, a coalition of organizers focused on homeless advocacy and tenants’ rights, to become an advocate for people who were once in his position.
Otzoy said he believes the MacArthur Park closure is “the same thing (the city) did in Echo Park,” and he said that he thinks the fences around MacArthur Park are here to stay.
“I have to say, to all of these people who are in power, the city council, the mayor, just give the money to the people that need housing and don’t try to just cover things up,” Otzoy said.
“People will receive housing for three months and then they get rid of them. That’s not a solution. The solution is for the city council to not misuse money for homeless people. The money should be given to them to get permanent housing.”
Uribe said PATH workers offered homeless MacArthur Park residents interim shelter at the Mayfair Hotel, a Project Roomkey site, and that PATH would also be the provider helping the same individuals move into permanent housing.
“We’re trying to help create continuity, but it’s hard,” she said about PATH and LAHSA’s outreach. “People who are used to being outside and used to MacArthur Park being their community, it’s all a big shift for them and it’s not easy.”
John McGowan, who has been homeless for 27 years, sat on a cement base of a lamppost in the park’s lakeside parking lot on Alvarado Street just hours before the park closed, waiting to receive Project Roomkey interim housing from PATH.
McGowan said he moves to and from Downtown LA and a bench in the southern, lakeside area of MacArthur Park serves as a place of rest for him.
“I’m feeling sad because they’re closing the park down,” McGowan said. “Now I really don’t have anywhere to go. It hurts because this is like a home to me. I’ve been homeless for 26 or 27 years, and I’m getting tired. You can only take so much.”
McGowan expressed his desperate need for housing, especially with having no family around to help him, and affirmed that, “Once I get this housing, I’ll be alright,” he said.
“I’ll be like a baby at a candy store because, like I said, I really need this help. … I need somewhere where I can stay warm, where I can take a shower.”
Terrance Howard, who has experienced homelessness, stood timid around PATH workers and only spoke to outreach workers. Ultimately, Howard felt left out of housing services provided to homeless MacArthur Park residents.
Howard, wrapped in a tattered blanket from shoulder to shoulder, said that he became a frequent resident of the MacArthur Park area starting during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
He said that he would often stay in the north side of MacArthur Park and close, surrounding areas but said he struggled to be granted housing. Howard confirmed he had spoken to LAHSA and PATH workers about receiving temporary housing.
After staying with family for some days to rest, Howard returned to the park and noticed that “there’s nobody around and everyone’s off the street,” he said. “After I had a couple of days of rest, (the outreach workers) don’t think I live here anymore. Now I’m left out of the referral system and I have no resources.
“I’m pretty much lost. When I saw (the outreach groups and workers) I had a little peace of mind. I have no fundamental interest about anything aside from finding a place to sleep, finding someplace safe,” Howard said.
Howard is concerned about finding shelter for the night.
“I’m going to have to stay in someone else’s camp or I have to find somewhere to rest and try it again in the morning,” he said.
“I don’t know that these (homeless outreach service providers) are going to come follow up and help me, or someone else in my situation, because they can’t find us.”
Most homeless service groups, no matter the title or funding, identify areas where there are large homeless populations and provide their outreach services accordingly. Howard was worried about services being lost to him.
“I feel like they don’t try to (find us),” he said about moving to a different location to sleep. “Maybe they try to come and drop off food and think that’s all we need and think that we have a place to sleep, but we don’t.”
Howard was frustrated, but he was trying to maintain a level head, staying empathetic so he can remain calm.
“These (outreach workers) are doing their job, but if they say they’re trying to get people off the streets, then I don’t know why there’s requirements for that,” he said.
“I don’t know if they think people are trying to take advantage, but if people say they’re homeless on the streets, it’s pretty much the truth.”
Kevin Kemp was one of the last remaining homeless MacArthur Park residents. By nightfall, he sat in a chair speaking with a PATH outreach worker to try and find interim housing for the night.
Kemp never thought his living situation was a tragedy, he said.
“I’ve been here for years,” Kemp said about his chosen residency in the Westlake/MacArthur Park neighborhood. Though Kemp preferred to sleep in the surrounding areas of the park due to their being “too many rats” at night, he said, “I think seeing the park gated off is taking something from the community. It brings sadness, because I don’t have access to the park like I used to.”