(Editor’s note: the story “Neighbors Speak Out as Centennial Park Encampment Halfway Cleared Making Way for Major Cleanup, Repairs” appeared on the Westside Current on June 12 and is reprinted with permission.)
By SANDRA CLARK
Just days after Westside Current released a story detailing the demise of the Venice Beach Library caused by the unruliness of the unchecked homeless encampment at nearby Centennial Park, the city is clearing the Park.
As of Saturday, June 11, almost half of encampments at the park were removed. Saint Joseph outreach workers and the Los Angeles Police Department have been overseeing the clearing of the encampments, which at one time had more than 60 tents and makeshift homes.
The Los Angeles Parks and Recreation is also assisting and over the weekend put up several new signs across the Park that read “Park Closed 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m.. No Loitering while the city’s forestry division surveys the trees.”
The Park, turned shantytown, has been the source of anguish and frustration for the Venice Beach community, especially for those living nearby. One person we spoke with –who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation– said she is thankful to see progress.
“I can’t tell you the relief I feel watching them clear the Park. I could feel the tension leave my body when they started breaking down tents.
“I even went on a long walk this morning with my dog for the first time in forever.
“The most frustrating thing about this situation is that the city ignored our pleas for help. I was made to feel like I was somehow a bad person who didn’t care about the homeless and I should be more welcoming and understanding. This is the same reason I choose to remain anonymous.
“What most people don’t know is that I lived this nightmare day in and day out.,” the resident said. “Every night I would wake up to the sounds of screaming and yelling. I watched people use meth out in the open. And fight, like literal fist fights.
“As the months went on, it started to feel like a weird blind spot of the people who claim to have compassion for the homeless, except their stories of the people on the street did not match what I was witnessing.
“Watching people injure each other while nothing was being done to intervene. This felt like the opposite of compassion and humanity. It made me rethink my own beliefs about the homeless dilemma. I’m still so angry that there is no better system in place,” the resident told the reporter.
Several groups, including Friends of the Venice Library, wrote letters to the city pleading for help to clean and clear the Park.
Jessica Rogers, a Pacific Palisades resident and the President of the Pacific Palisades Resident Association, helped spearhead a letter-writing campaign where more than 1,500 letters were sent to the City Council asking for the County to step in if need be.
“We asked for the city to consider asking the Los Angeles County Homeless Outreach Services Team for help if they didn’t think that they could handle the cleaning of the Park,” Rogers said. “They were successful on the boardwalk, and something needed to be done.”
As for as the cleanup, Westside Current spoke with someone who had been living in the park for months until she finally moved to temporary housing. She was told the remainder of her belongings, including her tent, would stay intact until Monday. However, all her belongings were removed when she returned to retrieve them Friday afternoon.
‘Had I known they would get rid of my things, I would have packed everything up sooner. I don’t know what to do now. I feel like no one is really in charge and everything is chaotic. Those were my things that were important to me and just tossed away like garbage.”
The encampments are expected to be cleared this week. Repairs at Centennial Park will occur, with the park remaining closed during that period.