Locals Concerned Over Riverbed Encampment

This bridge over Los Feliz Boulevard connects riders to the Atwater Village section of the Los Angeles River Bike Path. Photo: Clinton Steeds / Flickr Creative Commons.

ATWATER VILLAGE—As Orange County officials have been removing a three-mile encampment along the Santa Ana River, where an estimated 500 to 1,000 had taken shelter, similar encampments along the Los Angeles River—though much smaller in size—now pose a health and safety risk to the community, according to some residents who have voiced concerns to local officials.

The area already has the attention of Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell who said he has been working with a newly formed coalition called the “L.A. River Hope Team,” made up of police, sanitation and homeless service providers to help the situation.

Additionally a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority said that organization has also recently placed additional homeless service providers in the area, which should take root soon.

For some, the help cannot come soon enough.

Locals estimate that dozens are now living in tents under the Fletcher Drive overpass and scattered along the area’s concrete riverbed.

In a January letter to O’Farrell, the Atwater Village Neighborhood Council indicated that residents now “feel unsafe along the Atwater Village stretch of the Los Angeles River.”

The letter called on O’Farrell, the Los Angeles Police Dept. (LAPD), the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Dept. and the Dept. of Recreation and Park Rangers to help find solutions that “balance the safety of both the housed and homeless.”

One Atwater Village resident, Paul Martin, said he no longer feels safe riding his bike along the river due to the encampments.

“Someone threw a bottle at me. Another time someone spit at me and threw a can at me. It’s pretty hairy,” he said. “These guys don’t have anywhere else to go … It’s hard to get angry at them, so you get angry at the city. It’s such a wealthy city and they don’t seem to do anything. There’s got to be a better solution.”

New homeless figures, from a survey taken in late January, will be released in May.

That same survey found the city’s homeless population increased 20% last year to just over 34,000, including more than 25,000 living on the street. According to last year’s survey, O’Farrell’s district (13), which includes Silver Lake and Hollywood, in addition to Atwater Village, had more than 2,300 people living unsheltered.

But according to an AVNC spokesperson, CD13’s homeless population might be larger than the study reflected, as last year’s count of Atwater’s riverbed homeless encampments was cancelled due to storm flooding at the time.

As a result, the neighborhood council has asked for assurance that river encampments were counted this year.

“We don’t have an accurate count of how many people actually are living [along] the river,” said Josh Hertz, who sits on the AVNC’s Homelessness Committee.

Accuracy, Hertz said, is important as the number determines the level of services for the area.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure everyone has the services they need and gets the care they need so that there won’t be any risks to our housed population,” he said.

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