(Editor’s note: A 32-year Westchester resident sent a letter (below) to city officials, including Councilman Mike Bonin. Circling the News and Westside Current sent the letter to CD 11 candidates Erin Darling and Traci Park and asked for their response to the resident.)
THE WOMAN’S MESSAGE:
“I am writing to you in sheer frustration on behalf of my handicapped mother-in-law and other handicapped patrons of Westchester Senior Center and Westchester Library located in CD 11 on the busy Manchester and Lincoln Boulevards and in support of the woman and children who wish to use this parking lot for the library or to use the parking lot for children’s sports.
“Am I wrong to believe that clear safe access to public spaces is a right to all, and not just for the homeless?”
The woman explained she has a handicapped mother-in-law, whom she cannot take to the Westchester Senior Center or the library because illegal campers have taken the handicapped space.
The woman notes that the Senior Center has been a designated city cooling station, as well as the Westchester Library, unofficially, for people to seek refuge from the heat for heat stroke prevention.
“Elderly people on a fixed income can’t afford to cool their homes and would go to the library during the day to stay cool. They do not feel safe to go there with the homeless encampment in the parking lot.” She also said a lot of seniors don’t have computers and have used the public library computers, but now are unable to.
The woman asked, “Don’t our seniors matter?”
She explained that handicapped children cannot use the library, because of illegal parking and asks, “Don’t handicapped children matter?”
The woman said that in June, seniors and handicapped couldn’t vote at the Westchester Senior Center, because the handicapped spaces were filled with trash and broken RVs.
“The Senior Center has been a place for legal assistance, rent assistance, nutrition to help seniors from becoming homeless, too!” the woman said. “But due to the homeless encampment, the Senior Center has been closed for a long time.
She asks, “Do the 30 or so homeless encamped here illegally matter more than the thousands of seniors or handicapped?
“We ask that the City find another location for these vehicle dwellers so users of the park can be safe and have adequate parking available for users of the park for purposes for which it was intended.
“Over the past couple years, we have had hundreds of incidents in the park involving homeless people and children. These incidents have included indecent exposure, meth-infused meltdowns, racial slurs children could hear, following children, trying to engage children in conversation, poking penises through the chain link fence surrounding the tennis courts and urinating on the courts, attacking children in the restroom, claiming that children belong to them and demanding the children be turned over to them, fires and open drug usage.”
ERIN DARLING’s RESPONSE:
Everyone must be able to use quintessential public spaces like parks and libraries. My son is 3, and I want parents with young kids to feel safe on the sidewalk, at the playground and in the library. The question is not whether one group is more deserving of the public spaces, but rather how can we ensure that the public can enjoy public spaces in the face of the homelessness crisis. Three ways to do this:
- Law enforcement is necessary when there is criminal activity. As your councilmember, I pledge to work with LAPD. We should not have to endure open-air drug markets and obvious bicycle theft rings at encampments.
- Our public spaces must be clean. I am committed to working with city departments such as LASAN (LA Sanitation Department), Recreation and Parks and the LA Public Library, to ensure regularly scheduled cleaning and maintenance. This also means using discretionary funds to pay for additional cleaning. Filthy parking lots like the ones in the images shown here are unacceptable.
- We must get people inside, where they can begin to get treatment and care. The City’s current approach is shuffling people around from one city block or park to the next, essentially playing whack-a-mole instead of addressing the root cause of the problem.
The City must convert motels, engage in adaptive re-use of commercial spaces, use tiny homes and modular housing on City-owned land, all while ensuring these places are good neighbors. The City must create permanent supportive housing, but we cannot sit on our hands during the years that it takes to build. As a leader I will marshal resources and convene stakeholders behind a shared purpose of creating this pipeline out of encampments.
TRACI PARK’S RESPONSE:
The safe parking program at Westchester Park has been under-utilized from the outset, and it makes no sense that RVs are allowed to permanently encamp in other areas of the park, particularly in designated disabled spaces.
These violations should be investigated and subject to immediate corrective action by the City’s Disability Department. There are no services on site, and inadequate sanitation to deal with the amount of garbage and belongings amassed in these public spaces. Because of the repeated failures of the Council office to manage the safe parking program or protect the rest of the park from the spillover effects, I am not in favor of the current efforts to take away an additional 162 parking spaces.
When elected, I will immediately begin the process of offering outreach and housing options, and then seek enforcement of 41.18(c)(1), which allows for a 500-foot safe perimeter around our public libraries and parks.
More than 11,000 letters from residents have been sent asking local elected officials to restore full use and access to Westchester Park. I stand with our community in asking the same. With youth sports returning and the ball fields slated to reopen this fall, it is time to restore the full, safe enjoyment of this important community resource for all residents.
When elected, I will focus on the inhumanity of encampment living with the urgency this problem demands. We must get people off the streets, for the health and safety of the entire community. This is not an unsolvable problem, it is a matter of resolve and leadership.
I would encourage the woman who wrote to you and your readers to visit my website, TraciPark.com, to learn more about my position on ending encampments and addressing not just those who are unhoused, but also mental health and substance abuse issues. We must take swift action to get the unhoused into safe settings and restore the full use and enjoyment of our parks, libraries, and recreation spaces to their intended public uses.
It is not acceptable that disabled people, seniors, children, and families cannot access the library, senior center and other amenities at Westchester Park. As a candidate, for well over a year, I have been actively engaged on issues around the park and fighting to clean it up. I’ve personally witnessed the highly concerning behavior and conditions the Council Office has allowed to persist there. None of it is okay.