Rather than address our concerns, Mayor Garcetti would prefer to curtail our right to protest about unhoused people dying on the streets.
On Sunday, May 10 a recently formed group the People’s City Council held a “die-in” protest outside the home of Mayor Eric Garcetti in the wealthy neighborhood of Hancock Park. We were inspired to do so by a similar protest in San Francisco targeting their Mayor, London Breed, over her refusal to use hotels to house people experiencing homelessness.
It was Mother’s Day, but moms need housing too, so we felt it was entirely appropriate — necessary, really — to show up outside Garcetti’s mansion at 8:00 in the morning. As two activists held a sign reading “No Mother’s Day brunch for those choosing between food and rent #FoodNotRent #NoVacancyCA,” our group lay on the floor for 963 seconds (or about 16 minutes), to honor the 963 unhoused people who died on the street in 2019.
Two days later, LA Times reporter Dakota Smith shared photos on her Twitter showing that blockades had been put up outside the Mayor’s house, on the grassy parkway between the sidewalk and the street — exactly where our die-in had been.
Our two demands are simple, and they reflect the life-or-death urgency of secure housing during this deadly pandemic. (1) Cancel the rent — LA has the authority to do this. (2) Immediately commandeer hotel rooms for all unhoused residents — this is also clearly within the Mayor’s emergency powers.
If these steps aren’t taken, people will be evicted from their homes out onto the streets, and people already on the streets will die at a much higher rate than they have been already.
Garcetti is choosing not to act. He is choosing to let people die on the streets. And now he is choosing to shut down entirely peaceful protests that are educating the public about what he’s doing.
During the 16-minute “die-in,” Theo Henderson, an unhoused Black man, spoke to the group. “Hotels are not an abstract proposition. They are empty now,” he said. “There is no reason, in over 100 degree heat, why unhoused people need to be sitting in the few cooling centers, who can be in hotels.”
LA is acting to put a small number of its unhoused population in hotel rooms under the state program Project Roomkey, which relies on the voluntary cooperation of hotel owners. LA County has 60,000 unhoused people, and they plan to put only 15,000 of them in hotel rooms. Even if these plans are carried out to perfection, then, over 40,000 people will remain without secure housing during this deadly pandemic.
And progress has been incredibly slow so far: as of May 5, two months after the state of emergency was first declared in California, fewer than 1,600 people in LA County have been placed in hotel rooms. Meanwhile, there are literally more empty hotel rooms in downtown that are part of luxury projects that received public support than there are unhoused people living within Skid Row and adjoining areas.
Our protest came on the heels of the courageous occupation of the Ritz Carlton at LA Live by Davon Brown and other organizers from Street Watch LA. “I’m not leaving this hotel until Mayor Garcetti commandeers these vacant rooms,” Brown said when the occupation started. A few hours later, the group was arrested and charged with trespassing.
When Garcetti was asked about this at a press conference, he looked into the camera and said “we have a room for you” — two weeks later, Davon is still living in a tent in Echo Park.
An organizer I know relayed a message from Davon for this story: “If Mayor Garcetti doesn’t commandeer all vacant hotels for the homeless now, we won’t be six feet apart, we’ll be six feet under.”
Until all Angelenos are securely housed, we will continue to fight. We will continue to let the city know how Garcetti is choosing to let people die. He can pull a little stunt like this, blocking off public property, but he can’t stop us.