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First Person

Dear Mitch O’Farrell, You Can’t Fire a Movement

Unhoused residents of Echo Park Lake, and throughout Los Angeles will no longer be silenced.

Echo Park Lake, (February 2020)

In June, 2019 I began working for the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority [LAHSA]. In this position, I was given the opportunity to work directly with unhoused residents throughout Los Angeles to connect them to services, monitor encampment sweeps, and ultimately get people into housing. Last week, I was terminated from my position for standing up for my unhoused brothers and sisters who were being harassed, assaulted, and terrorized every single day and night for simply seeking refuge in a place they felt safe -Echo Park Lake.

I would like everyone to understand that this was more than just a job for me, the homelessness crisis is personal to me, and fighting for a solution for our unhoused brothers and sisters is my life’s calling.

My past is what brought me to this work, and why I will continue to fight tirelessly for our unhoused brothers and sisters until we have a suitable solution. As a child I was homeless for two years due to domestic violence. My mom and I lived out of our car. We had nowhere to go, and nobody to help us.

I know what it feels like to be abandoned by family and friends in a desperate time of need.

I know what it feels like to be stereotyped.

I know what it feels like to be hopeless due to a lack of a place to call home.

We lived out of a car because it was hard getting into shelters — and the places we did try didn’t feel safe. Ultimately, we returned to our abuser because there wasn’t an alternate solution for a woman and her child.

It wasn’t until 7 years later, when I had a younger sister and began seeing her abused that I went to a trusted school official who, with the right channels of connection, helped us escape.

The housing system failed me, and I will do my damndest to ensure it does not continue to fail those who are suffering.

As a founding member of Ground Game LA, I understand that people need to be active participants in addressing the problems they face. As I built relationships with unhoused communities throughout LA, I saw the potential in organizing residents to have a stronger voice in fixing the broken homelessness services and housing systems that were holding them back.

In the eight months that I worked with LAHSA, I was able to help 62 people (21 individuals and 5 families) get into housing. As an organizer, I began identifying unhoused community leaders at Echo Park Lake who were facing imminent eviction by the City. I knew this would be DISASTROUS because those 60 residents had nowhere to go, and breaking up their community would cause immense harm to the individuals I was trying to help.

We worked with encampment residents, community organizers, and activists including POWER LA, KTown for All, LACAN, SELAHNHC, DSA- LA, Street Watch LA (and many more) to propose a bargain between our coalition and the City, that would allow Echo Park Lake residents to stay in their community until permanent housing became available, and allow the City to keep the park safe and clean for everyone. Residents drafted an open letter (an olive branch, really), outlining their proposal in January 2020, and asked for a meeting with their Councilmember, during which they could sit down together and brainstorm solutions.

The meeting was rejected, and still has yet to be granted.

Within two weeks of taking this action, which called attention to the shortcomings of the City’s response to homelessness in a high-profile way, I was terminated from LAHSA. My dismissal wasn’t due to any problems in job performance. It was the direct result of multiple complaints filed by Mitch O’Farrell, the City Councilmember who represents Echo Park, along with LAPD and the Department of Recreation and Parks, who believed that it would be a better course of action to destroy their opposition, rather than collaborate on a solution.

Councilmember O’Farrell went so far as to call the Interim Director of LAHSA and insist disciplinary action be taken against me because I was, “instigating anarchy in the park,” at Echo Park Lake. Due to the probationary nature of my position at LAHSA (being with the agency for less than one year), they were within their right to do this.

Mitch O’Farrell and the other powers that be thought that by getting me fired from LAHSA, they would be able to continue to use a strategy of enforcement and harassment to make unhoused people disappear from his district. He thought he wouldn’t have to do the much harder work of figuring out how to guarantee housing to every one of his constituents. He thought one person was the ringleader of all of our organizing, and that getting me fired would make me go away. FALSE.

Our community is now in this fight and we will persist until we win not only locally, but nationally. 3 days before my termination, I was given the opportunity to fly to Washington, DC to help unveil the People’s Housing Platform with seven members of Congress and grassroots leaders from around the country. I am in the process of building a base of popular support, specifically amongst unhoused people, for our #HomesGuarantee platform, which would guarantee housing as a human right to every person in our community.

I am not going anywhere. WE are not going anywhere. I appreciate the time I spent at LAHSA, I know that I will have allies, mentors, and relationships with the people there that will survive this politically charged decision to severe our professional ties.

That being said, a lifetime commitment to fighting for our unhoused neighbors can’t be stopped with one professional setback. You can fire an individual, but you can’t fire a movement.

More to come.


Ashley B – CD13, 2022