By Jane Demian
An unhoused resident of Eagle Rock, Gabriel Estrada, 38, died in his tent on N. Figueroa Street under the 134 Freeway overpass on February 19, 2022.
The cause of death has not yet been determined, according to a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner.
I met Gabriel a year and a half ago while he was waiting at a bus stop at the corner of Yosemite Ave. and Eagle Rock Blvd. He was carrying a suitcase. He told me he was homeless and moved around a lot. He was friendly and made easy conversation. He had a brilliant smile and a disarming sweetness.
The next time I saw Gabriel – shortly after COVID hit– he had set up his tent in the city-owned lot near the freeway ramps on N. Figueroa St. across from the Eagle Rock Recreation Center. I visited him as part of a volunteer outreach team with SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition, which visited him there weekly. SELAH volunteer teams visit our unhoused neighbors on a neighborhood level, to develop relationships and trust, provide material aid, connection to existing services, and political advocacy.
During our many conversations with Gabriel, he often expressed how much he loved his dad, who lives in the area. He also told us he grew up in Eagle Rock and attended Eagle Rock Elementary. On his Facebook page he mentioned that his grandparents live on Hill Drive.
He seemed to be on the path to greater stability when he died.
In September 2021, the encampment in the Figueroa lot was cleared in order to begin the construction of 48 Tiny Homes for our unhoused neighbors on the site. Gabriel and approximately 26 individuals were relocated to a hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Gabriel stayed at the hotel until November, when he was briefly hospitalized.
When he returned to the hotel, his room was no longer available because he had been absent for several days. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), with whom Gabriel had worked to move into the downtown hotel, offered him an alternative room at the Arroyo Seco Tiny Homes, but he preferred to stay in Eagle Rock to be near family.
By December 2021, Gabriel had set up his tent in the sidewalk encampment on N. Figueroa St. under the 134 Freeway. Like many of the people currently camped there, he had been deemed eligible by LAHSA to relocate to one of the Eagle Rock Tiny Homes, which are slated to open sometime in March.
Gabriel Estrada is the fifth unhoused neighbor I know of to die on the streets of Eagle Rock since 2018, including a woman in her 80s on Figueroa St. in 2018; a 25-year old woman, Sarah Marchain, under the 2 Freeway on W. Broadway in 2019; a 62-year old man, Andres Sierra, also under the 2 Freeway on W. Broadway, and an unidentified male, in the Figueroa lot, both in 2021. Another unhoused man, known as Emilio around 50 years old, died on Eagle Rock Blvd. in Glassell Park in 2020.
The added tragedy in Gabriel’s case is that when he died, he was just weeks from having a roof over his head, a place to call home.