Poinsettia Park Neighbors Speak Out Against Homeless Encampment; Homeless Woman Asks for Compassion

poinsettia park
Mia, a homeless transgender woman, speaking at the Poinsettia Park meeting. Standing from left to right are LAPD detective Brent Hopkins, LAPD’s Inga Wecker. and Robert Oliver, field director for L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz.

The homeless encampment on Poinsettia Place between Romaine Street and Willoughby Avenue is upsetting residents living nearby who complain about car break-ins, trespassing, finding used drug needles and human feces in their yards as well as homeless people openly masturbating, using drugs and harassing people.

Those were some of the issues raised at a neighborhood public safety meeting, sponsored by the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch Association, held Tuesday night in Poinsettia Park in Los Angeles, just across the West Hollywood border. About 75 people (both Los Angeles and West Hollywood residents, including City Councilmember Lauren Meister and Lt. Edward Ramirez of the WeHo Sheriff’s Station) turned out for the standing-room-only meeting, which was so crowded that some people had to stand outside the room, struggling to hear the discussion. Among those attending was a homeless transgender woman who urged those at the meeting to show compassion for people like her.

During the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, residents reported concerns about their safety. They said they were reluctant to walk from their homes to the nearby Trader Joes grocery store, fearful to let their children play outside, afraid of walking barefooted or in sandals on the sidewalks or even their own front yards because of needles and feces, and tired of stepping over or around people passed out on the sidewalk.

“I’ve never felt unsafe in the ten years I’ve lived her, but in the past five months, I feel unsafe,” said one person.

“I don’t like having to be on guard all the time,” said another resident. “This used to be such a safe neighborhood.”

Meanwhile, a couple living in the area reported they no longer walk to work at The Lot, the nearby movie studio, for fear of being harassed by people in the homeless encampment.

That encampment on Poinsettia Place has grown significantly in recent months. A police officer reported its numbers swelled after a large number of people were displaced by construction of a new building in Hollywood.

“This is a housing issue, primarily,” Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) senior lead officer Inga Wecker of the Wilshire division station told the crowd. She visits the Poinsettia encampment daily and is intimately familiar with its inhabitants.

Advocating Compassion

While the meeting was intended to address concerns about quality-of-life issues, several times it turned into a shouting match between area residents and homeless advocates urging compassion.

“People need housing, not handcuffs,” said John Motter, a volunteer with Ground Game LA, a homeless advocacy group. “We need to think of housing as a fundamental human right.”

Motter said his group is looking for long-term solutions to the homeless problem, not just knee-jerk reactions to the growing number of homeless.

“Skid Row is now everywhere in Los Angeles,” Motter told the crowd. “Every community has a Skid Row.”

Wecker, however, noted that the few dozen people living at the Poinsettia encampment is nothing compared to the size of encampments in downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood and Venice.

While the Poinsettia homeless encampment was just 500 feet from where the meeting was being held, only one homeless person came to speak on their behalf. Mia, a transgender women, stood outside the meeting yelling about compassion before being invited to address the crowd.

Mia explained she had been homeless since 2012 and asked for people to show some compassion and remorse for the homeless situation.

“Some people might have certain circumstances in their lives where they don’t know how to keep stability,” said Mia. “It is very tough world. It’s very tough to survive and live in this world. There’s a lot of selfish, greedy people out there in this world that aren’t trying to fight back for those that are in poverty.”

Community meeting about homeless encampment at Poinsettia Park

Worries About Crime

Several people said they were not so much bothered by the existence of the encampment on Poinsettia as they were concerned about the increase in crime as the camp has grown.

Wecker said LAPD arrests homeless people who have outstanding warrants for previous crimes. However, that does not keep them off the street for long, and the vast majority of the homeless do not have outstanding warrants.

Wecker reported that crime in the area north of Beverly Boulevard and west of La Brea is down overall from a year ago. Although she did not provide exact statistics, she said violent crimes were down significantly, but property crimes were up. The number one crime in the area is burglary of motor vehicles.

LAPD Detective Brent Hopkins advised residents take simple steps of keeping valuables in the car out of sight and locking their cars, even in their own garages because people can break into garages.

Hopkins said that it does not appear that the uptick in car burglaries is coming from “unhoused” people, but rather from professional burglary groups that have targeted the area.

Wecker reminded the residents that it is not a crime to be homeless and that people are permitted to be on the sidewalk. She said the city of Los Angeles allows people to have tents up between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. After that, they have to take the tent down, but are not required to leave the area.

While police officers often come by the encampment telling people to take the tents down, the LAPD does not have the manpower to keep officers at the encampment all day. So, once LAPD leaves, the tents frequently go back up.

Several people asked about erecting some sort of hedge or fence around the homeless tents on Poinsettia, some saying they would help pay for it and erect it.

However, Robert Oliver, a field deputy for Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the area, said even though the sidewalk along that portion of Poinsettia is extra wide, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires a minimum of 36 inches clearance on the sidewalks.

“We can’t intentionally put obstructions up,” Oliver said. “We need to fix the problem.”

Oliver said the Poinsettia homeless encampment was of particular concern because it is directly in front of a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) facility that houses electrical equipment critical to the city’s infrastructure. He said that on several occasions people have jumped the ten-foot high fence surrounding the DWP facility.

Several people suggested bringing in portable toilets and showers for the homeless, noting they could easily be set up in Poinsettia Park. However, Oliver said that Koretz wants to make sure the park remains a park and does not intend for the Poinsettia encampment to become permanent.

“Homelessness is the number one issue for Councilmember Koretz,” said Oliver. “This encampment is the worst in Council District Five [Kortez’s district].”

Getting the Homeless to Services

Many people wanted to help get homeless people to services that can help move them out of homelessness. However, Wecker noted while you can make a homeless person aware that the services exist, you cannot make him take advantage of them.

As an example, Wecker said a minister from Venice Beach frequently joins her on visits to various homeless encampments, offering people immediate shelter and food vouchers as well as financial assistance in finding permanent housing. She reported that in 18 months, only three people have accepted the minister’s offer of help.

As for cleaning debris off the sidewalks, Wecker said LAPD was required by law to provide 72 hours’ notice and after that, the Los Angeles Department of Sanitation has to determine what is trash and what must be saved.

Wecker said that doing a sweep of the area to clear out the homeless people would merely move the problem someplace else. She also said that if the police were to transport a transient person to another location without his or her express permission, they would be guilty of kidnapping.

Wecker said the best way to make a long-term difference is to lobby the area’s neighborhood council for action. She noted that the Melrose area neighborhood council meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the National Council of Jewish Women building at 543 Fairfax Ave. at Clinton Street.

Many residents expressed concerns about homeless people squatting in houses or buildings that are not currently occupied. One resident reported 17 homeless people were living in a house that was scheduled to be demolished. Another reported homeless people moving into a rental house that was between tenants for just a few weeks. Residents also reported some vacant houses in the neighborhood have become drug dens and/or places of prostitution, with a steady stream of people in and out.

Wecker said that once a building is vacant, when a person breaks in, he or she is merely guilty of trespassing, which is a misdemeanor. Whereas, if the house is occupied, it is burglary, which is a felony.

Wecker asked residents to report vacant or abandoned houses and buildings to the police so they can keep a watch out for them. She said the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety can determine if a vacant or abandoned building is a safety hazard and ask the owner to put up “No Trespassing” signs. If the owner does not cooperate, the city can cite the owner. Eventually if the owner refuses to cooperate, the city can seize the building, or if it is slated for demolition, it can speed up the demolition process.


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Po
Guest
Po

I am homeless..I have an income but I can’t afford a place to live in any part of this city..come on 2200 on average to rent a place by yourself or a room for around what $800 a month..that’s everything I receive each month..not to mention the way people treat you..as if your not human..dehumanizing a person because they can’t afford the absurd amount people want for rent is just messed up…not to mention that 20 odd years ago the dehumanizing was happening to another group of people LGBTQ…so quickly you forget.absolutely hypocritical thinking from you guys.its funny you folks… Read more »

Will
Guest
Will

This is not a problem where the underlaying root is the inability of individuals to find a simple job as a janitor or dishwasher and a basic room to rent — millions of people in this city do that everyday of the week. This is a problem where the underlaying root is individuals’ inability to function in society at the most basic level due mental illness or addiction to meth, crack or heroin. Everyone keeps talking about housing, “we’ve got to build housing” “where are going to put the housing?” Wrong question. What good does it do to put a… Read more »

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon Schmidt

Will,

The first rational comment on homelessness I have read here so far.

However, the self destructive behavior is beyond their control. They have a chemical addition or a mental condition.

Yes, it is true the drug addicts made a poor choice to start but once they are addicted they cannot control it.

And of course the people with a mental condition can’t control it if they don’t have access o medicine and treatment. Without both, they are not going to make decisions which are in their best interest.

Eric

FB Eric Jon Schmidt for Weho

Susan
Guest
Susan

Ok, but what about the scores of people who won’t take medication or get counseling? Just because they don’t want help, doesn’t mean they can create public health hazards camping at a park meant for tax paying residents.

JJ
Guest
JJ

Will…yes, yes, YES! Hit the nail right on the head.

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon Schmidt

The building on Sunset and Western, which would make a perfect Homeless Wellness Center, is sitting empty because two community groups made up of two people didn’t want a Target in their neighborhood. Superior Court Judge Richard L. Fruin Jr. sided with two community groups who said in separate lawsuits that the City Council should not have allowed Target to build a 74-foot-tall structure in a location where such projects cannot exceed 35 feet. “Millions of dollars in investment will be stopped,” wrote Target’s lawyer, Richard Schulman. “And any delays will postpone, or worse, the hiring of a couple hundred… Read more »

Susan
Guest
Susan

Ok, but what about the scores of people who won’t take medication or get counseling? Just because they don’t want help, doesn’t mean they can create public health hazards camping at a park meant for tax paying residents.

Jim Nasium
Guest
Jim Nasium

“you can make a homeless person aware that the services exist, you cannot make him take advantage of them.”………..”in 18 months, only three people have accepted the minister’s offer of help.”

Time to rethink how to manage this issue.

Supatall2u
Guest
Supatall2u

Sorry not sorry but the homeless in the Poinsettia encampment are bike thieves, drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes and the mentally unstable. If they want tax paying invested citizens to have compassion for them, perhaps they need to start by showing compassion to us by not stealing, assaulting, defecating on private property, shooting up and leaving used blood stained needles scattered around the sidewalks and gutters, jerking off and performing sex acts, squatting, et. al. In order to get compassion you need to give it. Let’s start there. And let’s get both police forces (LAPD & WeHo Sheriff) to join together… Read more »

Cooper
Guest
Cooper

Perhaps we should be like another city dealing with this:

The City of Irvine took a vote Tuesday night and plans to sue the Orange County Board of Supervisors in order to stop the tent city from being put up.

http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2018/03/20/laguna-niguel-south-orange-county-homeless-tent-cities/#.WrHzdhmwkXM.twitter

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon Schmidt

Dear JJ, You said: “They are drug addicts, alcoholics, people with mental issues and those that just don’t want to work for a living. All the new housing in the world is not going to encourage or fix their situation. They have to want to get their life back on track.” Everyone, including me knows that Addictions and Mental Health issues have caused many them to be without a home, but by not treating them for those Diseases we perpetuate the situation. Part of housing them, of course would include the Treatment They Need. Whether it’s psychiatric or substance/alcohol abuse… Read more »

blueeyedboy
Guest
blueeyedboy

You’re wrong about Reagan. They keep saying that under the Reagan administration homelessness skyrocketed. What they don’t say is that it was because liberal activist judges decided it was a violation of civil rights to keep the mentally ill in homes in which they were safe and well taken care of, and instead put them out on the streets. Reagan had nothing to do with it! In addition, the de-institutionalizing of mental hospitals began with Pres. Kennedy. Then California Governor Pat Brown passed that law with a Democrat majority assembly and it fell to the new incoming Gov. Reagan to… Read more »

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon Schmidt

I said Reagan made it worse, he didn’t start it. but our Generation needs to stop it be getting the people the help they need.

blueeyedboy
Guest
blueeyedboy

How did Reagan make it worse?

BradK
Guest
BradK

A watershed moment in this initiative to release the mentally unfit into the streets came in 1978 when people walked out of “One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest”, bawling their eyes out for poor Mr. MacMurphy and Big Chief.

“These medieval institutions are inhuman! We must free the victims!”

Free them they did, and now their ever-increasing numbers are on your doorstop. And they blame Regan.

The bleeding heart, but ultimately uninformed electorate of California then gave us Prop 47. Because things weren’t quite bad enough.

JJ
Guest
JJ

Blueeyedboy – you must have gotten an A+ in history. You are absolutely correct. Reagan had nothing to do with it. The courts ruled that it was a violation of their civil rights to keep the mentally ill in facilities against their will.

blueeyedboy
Guest
blueeyedboy

JJ and BradK, when we have someone running for City Council perpetuating these myths, or, when he is corrected, doesn’t acknowledge his error (which would have impressed me), I realize that the demonization of certain people and groups serves them better than the truth. If we’re going to solve the problem of homelessness wouldn’t it be helpful to understand just how it is that it got to this point?

JJ
Guest
JJ

Yes, very true.

WeHoVaudevillian
Guest
WeHoVaudevillian

Is there a homeless encampment like this in Hancock Park? Or around the tony homes of Silverlake?

Curious that they’re here, not there. Why is that, I wonder.

JJ
Guest
JJ

I’m sorry but the vast majority of homeless that I and everyone I speak to about this (friends, business owners, neighbors) is not down on their luck, lost their job or can’t afford an apartment. They are drug addicts, alcoholics, people with mental issues and those that just don’t want to work for a living. All the new housing in the world is not going to encourage or fix their situation. They have to want to get their life back on track. I think as a society, we’ve demonstrated compassion for a long, long time. We are the ones trying… Read more »

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon Schmidt

“This is a housing issue, primarily,” Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) senior lead officer Inga Wecker of the Wilshire division station told the crowd. She visits the Poinsettia encampment daily and is intimately familiar with its inhabitants. Statistics show that many people who are complaining about the homeless in America are a paycheck away from being homeless themselves. Where is the compassion? The Empathy? Mia, A Transgender Woman said at the meeting: “It is very tough world. It’s very tough to survive and live in this world. There’s a lot of selfish, greedy people out there in this world that… Read more »

Justsomedude
Guest
Justsomedude

Lol, no way the problem is 80% of the homeless that people complain about the ones doing the drugs, crime so on don’t want off the dam streets they don’t want house ig if they can’t get high!! If they have to take meds that they believe they don’t need!!! U guys are nuts have u ever really talked or lived with any non”done on luck homeless “ that is like 5% of the homeless in la it’s not the oh I am was one paycheck away… housing does nothing… you can’t force meds in Cali and u not going… Read more »

Alison
Guest
Alison

The huge building on Sunset and Western is sitting empty because of a lawsuit, not because of Target deciding not to move in. Also, you can’t force housing, if there were housing, on the homeless. Compassion is one thing, but the people who are in need must want the help. Many don’t. We are a tiny City. Let’s not give the homeless a big welcome mat more than we already have. Your statement “If I was on City Council, I would Direct the Appropriate Directors to present a “ready to go” Plan of Action within 30 days or Resign.”, in… Read more »

Rob Bergstein
Guest
Rob Bergstein

Eric, the City of West Hollywood holds no authority over the City of LA as it pertains to building housing–they have their own plans and tax revenues. So if you were to be on West Hollywood City Council, there’s not much,if anything, you’d be able to do that our current councilmembers already do, which is to speak out in favor when they can and to continue funding the social services for West Hollywood’s homeless residents. There’s no plan that you could enforce with the City of LA or any other city. With West Hollywood being a “built out” city, with… Read more »