Despite weeks of fears of violent confrontation and resistance, it came quietly to MacArthur Park on Friday.
The park, west of downtown Los Angeles, will be closed for 10 weeks from 10:30 p.m. – the culmination of a 10-month project bringing homeless people living in tents in the park to shelter and support services.
Surrounded by a chain link fence, the southern half of the park was devoid of the tents that had once huddled on its eastern edge. Inside the fence, some people slept on stone benches. Signs on the barrier said the park was temporarily closed for renovation work.
As night fell, a handful of activists showed up for a planned demonstration, which did not materialize. Police were nowhere to be seen.
MacArthur’s unfenced northern half was like most other Friday evenings – groups of kids and young men kicking soccer balls, a group of older men playing craps on the sidewalk, and vendors selling hot dogs, corn, and ice cream from handcarts.
About 10 tents were pitched in the park north of Wilshire Boulevard – far fewer than in the previous weeks, when the corner of South Alvarado Street and Wilshire was crowded with tents and other makeshift accommodation.
Weeks ago, in late September, an announcement of the impending closure sparked fears that the move would lead to conflict between residents of the park, their advocates and authorities.
Many pointed to the violence in March when police faced protesters and people in Echo Park, which was also to be evacuated and temporarily closed.
But unlike that March shutdown, officials made sure the public was notified in advance and gave the people who lived in MacArthur Park ample time to comply with the order, LA city councilor Gil Cedillo previously said the Times.
The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority and the PATH homeless agency began relocating and contacting people in shelters or shelters in January, Cedillo told the Times.
City officials have billed the project as “rehabilitation” and said the closure was limited to the portion of the park south of Wilshire Boulevard.
The city’s Department of Recreation and Parks plans to use the closure to catch up on maintenance delayed by the pandemic.
The project costs $ 1.5 million and includes modernized lighting, replanted lawns, repairs to irrigation and new park benches.
Cedillo told the Times he expected the park to reopen in January. All fences and barricades are removed.
As dusk fell, at least one of the residents of MacArthur Park said he had been offered shelter but was unwilling to give up the independence and freedom of a life on his own terms.
The 56-year-old declined to name The Times but said he was known in the park as “John the Merciful”.
John spoke to The Times in the north half of the park and said he had lived there for about a year after suffering a serious hip injury that made him unable to move without a wheelchair.
Since he has lived in the park, he has valued the camaraderie among the camp’s residents. However, he admitted that there were dangers, such as when four young gang members who believed he was selling drugs asked him to pay them rent.
He protested and the gang members beat him up in his wheelchair, he said.
Rats are also such a serious problem that park residents have been unable to store food in their tents.
And he has noticed the influx of people from the park, residents moving to emergency shelters, other temporary shelters, or other camps in the city.
“I think I was just hesitant,” he said, “but I like to be alone.”