Dedra Wilson was woken up around 5:40 a.m. on last Thursday morning by Long Beach police. Wilson’s crime? Being homeless, she suggests.
“They lined us up and told us we were all criminals,” Wilson said. “Raids. That’s what they call them…It’s happening more frequently.”
She and about 20 fellow homeless slept by the Long Beach courthouse to cover from last night’s rain. Police told her that next time instead of citations, they would be arrested and put in the jailhouse.
It was the day before the Grand Prix and many of Long Beach’s homeless say that’s not a coincidence.
Homeless folks at Lincoln Park say police increased enforcement in recent weeks to push them out of downtown in preparation for the Grand Prix. City workers conducted mass sweep-ups of homeless camps throughout March. What used to be massive homeless encampments off the 710 freeway are now gone, for example (pictured).
“I watched a parade of people in shopping carts crossing the L.A. river bridge with all their stuff,” said Reverend Kit Wilke, Vice President of the Long Beach Area Coalition for the Homeless. “It’s one of the things that tends to happen every year just before the Grand Prix,” he said.
At the time of this writing, Long Beach Police had not yet responded to emails asking if there had been an increase in enforcement for the Grand Prix. However Ed Kamlan, Public Information Officer for the City Manager, said he was “not aware of any increase in enforcement.”
The Multi-Service Center, the agency responsible for the camp clearing, also did not return calls in time for this story’s deadline.
“I’m quite certain that the leadership of the city doesn’t really want visitors from around the state to come here for the Grand Prix to see the number of homeless that are here,” said Wilke. “Having people see the [homeless] situation might wake them up to how significant it is.”
(Dedra Wilson, homeless, talks to VoiceWaves about what happens during the Grand Prix. Her friends are surrounded by their belongings.)
Long Beach officials have said in the past that camp clearings before the Grand Prix are “coincidental,” according to a 1991 Los Angeles Times article, but there have been efforts to discourage the homeless’ presence in the downtown area. The city manager’s office planned on removing loading zones that were knowingly used for homeless food drop-offs (read here).
Homeless here at Lincoln Park find the perceived increase in enforcement expected.
“This is how it goes every year [during the Grand Prix] without exception– Friday; Saturday; Sunday,” said Little John*, who did not want to use his real name. “They don’t want you to be here. They don’t want people to find out this is a homeless town.”
Little John sleeps in his car and works part-time as a port worker. He also saw the raid that Dedra Wilson saw that morning, but from Lincoln Park, next to the Courthouse where Wilson was. From the park, he saw about 20 people arrested, he said.
“They woke everybody up and gave everyone a ticket” said Jonathan Serra, a homeless youth here at the park. “Because of the Grand Prix, they don’t want the tourists seeing us.”
The homeless here claim that such a “raid” also occurred the day before, at three in the morning.
“They round us up when we’re sleeping, so nobody knows basically,” Serra said.
Faith Osborne was another homeless at last Thursday’s police check.
“They came in screaming,” she said. “I told them I’m in a walker, it takes me time. He told me to get off my fat ass.” She said she saw about eight people arrested at the courthouse.
To listen to the voices of those displaced, click on the video above and for more information about the homeless services in Long Beach, go HERE.