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COMMUNITY NEWS: East

EAST LOS ANGELES : Bridge Dwellers Try to Stall Ouster

October 04, 1992|MARY ANNE PEREZ

Several homeless people who have set up cardboard shanties beneath the 7th Street Bridge near the Los Angeles River say they will try to stall efforts to close off the area by demanding that the city give them 30 days' eviction notice.

The City Council last week approved an ordinance to clean up a homeless encampment under the bridge and surround the area with a chain-link fence. The ordinance, proposed by Councilman Richard Alatorre, will not be enforced until the encampment's occupants are relocated.

"We're finding them shelter and somewhere else they can go," Alatorre press deputy Luisa Campano said.

One evening last week, men pulled up crates for chairs, ate a dinner of chicken and rice and discussed their living arrangements. Some say they have lived at the encampment for two years.

"We're called homeless, but we're not homeless," said Louie Diaz, 55, who said he has been on the streets for 25 years and under the bridge for about one. "We're here because it's the only peaceful place we can be."

Added Leo Ratliff: "It's better than downtown. It's like a suburb."

The occupants have set up cardboard boxes for rooms and hang blankets to divide their quarters. Tires, grocery carts, boxes and other discards were strewn about the bridge's underside, charred by a fire they said was recently set by a former resident angry at his girlfriend. Several dogs chased after discarded chicken bones.

"If we were doing drugs, we wouldn't be eating," said a 43-year-old encampment occupant who identified himself only as Mitchell. "All we want to do is be left alone. We don't bother nobody."

Campano said the ordinance is necessary because of recent violence and fires beneath the bridge.

"When something that was peaceful turns violent, it's the councilman's job to do what is in the interest of everybody," she said. "We talked to the merchants, homeless advocates and even the homeless people who called to complain."

Campano said Alatorre's staff has been working with the Homeless Assistance Office of the city Community Development Department to relocate the squatters.

Although they have not obtained legal help, the people who live there said they are determined to keep the bulldozers away.

"We're going to make (the city) go through the (eviction) process," Mitchell said.

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