A few feet away from those dressed up in tuxedos, charro suits and elegant dresses taking pictures for their weddings andquinceañeras, there are at least a dozen tents—some large, some small—that have been erected in Brand Park in Mission Hills.
Homeless people have set up residence near the cement tables and benches used previously by families having barbecues on weekends.
The park is now strewn with possessions of the homeless, from backpacks to an inflatable children’s pool.
But the homeless — their advocates prefer to describe them as “unhoused” — are not limiting themselves to one area of the park. Some have spread out to seek shade near the entrance to the “Memory Gardens” area; one person was seen sleeping next to his wheelchair in the middle of the bushes in the rose garden. People taking photos on a Saturday afternoon had to walk around the man laying on the ground.
“It looks bad. It reflects that the government doesn’t care about people who live on the streets,” said Mario, who did not want to give his last name, and who comes to the park often to exercise.
He added that the homeless at the park have been there for over a year.
Brand Park is located across the street from the San Fernando Mission and is a literal focal point for families. It’s a long-standing tradition for Latino families to take their most treasured photos in this park against the backdrop of it’s fountains, trellises and rose gardens. It is considered is the most scenic location in the Northeast Valley.
But now, wedding and quinceanera parties find themselves stepping cautiously, trying to find an area at the park where they can keep a distance.
Fountains Have Been Shut Off
Lorenzo Leyva, a wedding and quincenera photographer, said the encampment gives a “bad image” to the photogenic park. Sometimes he has to adjust his usual photo setups to work around it.
“If I’m taking photos and the tents come in the background, I have to photoshop them out,” Leyva said.
He said he started noticing the homeless at the park before the pandemic, but “their numbers grew” during the health crisis.
The city of Los Angeles, Leyva said, has shut off the water in the park fountains — which were a favorite background for photographs — “because the homeless would get in them to get water or to bathe.”
He’s also become more alert about his equipment when he’s shooting photographs.
“One time [one of the homeless was] on a bicycle and almost took my camera. Good thing he didn’t,” Leyva said.
“Not Sure What to Expect”
Irma Eaves, a Chatsworth resident who was visiting the park for the first time to photograph the rose bushes, said she decided to bring her husband Michael along after noticing the homeless tents.
“I was afraid to come by myself. I was not sure what to expect,” Irma said.
“That sucks, the way they’re there. It’s a bummer to see it,” Michael said. The couple said they almost turned back after nearly tripping over a man sleeping on the ground next to his chair in the middle of the rose garden.
Irma said more housing should be available for people sleeping on the streets. Michael added, “They shouldn’t be around the Mission ‘cause it’s a historical place.”
The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol newspaper inquired at the office of LA Councilmember Monica Rodriguez if the homeless at Brand Park have been offered outreach services and resources, and if there were any plans to remove them.
While Rodriguez’s office indicated it would respond by presstime, it failed to do so.
Homeless Problem in Mission Hills
In November of 2020, the Mission Hills Neighborhood Council noted it had heard multiple concerns from stakeholders about homeless people in the area.
When it reached out to Rodriguez’s office, area representative Dominique Vitti told the Neighborhood Council that people can report any encampment, vehicle dwelling or homeless person directly to outreach workers through the LAHSA (Los Angeles Housing Services Authority) Outreach Portal (https://www.lahsa.org/portal/apps/la-hop/), so outreach workers could provide services.
But authorities say they simply can’t remove homeless people from many areas unless they pose a threat. This is partly due to a Supreme Court decision not to review the Martin vs. Boise case, which essentially means Los Angeles cannot make it illegal for the homeless to dwell in tents on the sidewalk until more shelter beds are provided.
Residents can also report encampments by calling the 3-1-1 system or contacting Rodriguez’s field office so it can activate the CARE Program which provides sanitation service and an outreach team specifically to Council District 7, enabling a cleanup of encampments 20 days a month.