“I’m sick and tired of this fucking bullshit.”
Harvey, the “mayor” of the El Pueblo homeless encampment, made this declaration in front of unhoused and housed protesters, LA sanitation workers, CARE+ team members, and three LAPD cruisers during a tense standoff on Tuesday January 19.
Traditionally on Tuesday mornings in El Pueblo, the city conducts sweeps that force the unhoused residents to move all of their belongings or risk having them thrown out under the guise of cleaning (for more information on this humiliating ordeal, check out Annie Power’s piece here).
In recent months, the unhoused residents of El Pueblo have also endured last minute sweep cancellations, often without warning. While this may sound like a welcome respite from the sweeps, the inconsistency and lack of communication has led to confusion and anger from many of our unhoused neighbors.
“It’s a fucking joke to them,” Harvey told the crowd on Tuesday January 19, “It’s a cat-and-mouse game that we’re playing, and fucking Garcetti loves it. Cuz then he thinks he has the upper-hand.”
Harvey’s frustration is shared by unhoused residents throughout El Pueblo, many of whom are elderly, disabled, and awake at 4 a.m. in order to begin the arduous process of moving all their belongings only to learn that the sweep has been canceled hours later, if they are informed at all. One Tuesday at the beginning of January, six unhoused residents were so fed up with this disrespectful treatment that they refused to move during a sweep. Members of Street Watch Los Angeles, a coalition of organizers concerned about homelessness and tenant rights, worked with the unhoused community in order to plan how to take a stand.
This is an excerpt from their first press release:
On Tuesday morning, El Pueblo residents will refuse to move their belongings and assert their right to shelter in place, protecting their health and safety during a pandemic. Sweeps — which force elderly, disabled, and COVID positive residents to move their worldly belongings out of the way of the trash truck — are evictions. At a time when there are not even enough beds in the shelters while 70,000 hotel rooms remain vacant, we recognize that forcing folks to accept congregate warehousing is not “housing” for our unhoused family, but only a further risk factor for them…
Street Watch LA calls on the City of Los Angeles to cancel all sweeps and to provide residents with essential services consistent cleanings, maintained trashcans and restrooms, on-site COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, and healthcare/addiction support for substance users without criminalization. We call on the city, county, and state to seize vacant hotels, cancel rent, and ban evictions to prevent more people from losing their homes. 4 Unhoused deaths every day in LA is not OK! #ServicesNotSweeps #4aDayNotOK #HousekeysNotHandcuffs
On Tuesday January 19, housed and unhoused protestors joined together at 7 a.m. to form the first blockade. Many were tense when they noticed the two LAPD cruisers already parked nearby to observe, but Street Watch volunteers handed out donuts and coffee to lift everyone’s spirits. Once sanitation and the CARE+ teams arrived, the crowd gathered nearby to form a blockade.
After a third LAPD cruiser arrived, Harvey began to yell.
“What I’m doing is the right thing for everybody that is here — not just us living here, but you guys too,” Harvey said, referring to the housed protesters. “I’m sick and tired of this fucking bullshit, of this game that we’re playing.”
After this short but tense standoff, the CARE+ teams and sanitation withdrew. As of this writing, every blockade action has successfully prevented the city from conducting sweeps in El Pueblo.
Once the city trucks left, I asked Harvey what he thought about the fact that the city felt the need to send three LAPD cruisers to a peaceful demonstration.
“This is their stupid mistake by being here,” he replied, “Because now we know that they are watching [us]. With that said, now we know they’ll be patrolling on Tuesdays — they haven’t been doing that.”
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