Rich Armond still drives by Channel View Park where his daughter, Ashlee Armond, died in 2014, and where he now sometimes sits on the bench with his wife near a recently planted western redbud tree that sprouts purple flowers—Ashlee’s favorite color.

The strip of the park that sits at a cul-de-sac on Fifth Street holds a memorial bench with Ashlee’s name etched into the back and red signs with her name, birth date, death date and a hibiscus flower attached to a guard rail. There’s also an “End” sign that was installed after her accident.

Soon, that area of the park will hold an official city sign bearing her name.

“The more things that are there—it means nothing like this will happen to anyone else,” Rich said, referencing the guard rail and heavy stone bench.

That portion of the park in East Long Beach will now be known as “Ashlee’s Park” after the City Council approved a name change to honor the 20-year-old woman who died after driving into the Los Cerritos Channel in 2014.

Ashlee disappeared in December 2014 and was found submerged in her car after a day of searching. Her name has lived on, though, through a local nonprofit serving people who are unhoused and her father’s dogged dedication to also helping those same people as a quality-of-life officer for the Long Beach Police Department.

Rich, a 32-year officer, has became one of the most recognizable city figures among the unhoused population because of his relentless work ethic and the level of trust he’s been able to develop over the last several years. He notes that while he primarily works on the city’s east side, unhoused people across the city know him as “the cop that will help you.”

His reputation precedes him among the network of unhoused people in the city, which now includes 3,447 people, according to this year’s homeless count.  He credits his daughter’s death with his newfound drive to help those living on the streets, something that she did when she was alive.

“I’m here doing this work for a great cause, and I’m getting results that I can’t really explain,” Rich said, noting that maybe it was his grief over her death that pushed him into doing something “she’d be proud of.”

He remembers his daughter as someone who was always wanting to give and help. She often brought home animals like guinea pigs, tortoises and dogs. When they’d be driving together and they’d see an unhoused person, she’d give them some of the money that she’d have, or she’d ask him for money and he’d hand it over, even though he was reluctant at the time.

The Armond family standing next to a tree planted near a memorial bench for Ashlee Armond. Photo courtesy of Rich Armond

He never envisioned that he would become one of the Long Beach’s quality-of-life officers who work directly with the unhoused people in the city.

“When you sign up to become a police officer they ask you, ‘Why do you want to be a cop?’” Rich said, noting that a typical answer is that recruits want to help their community.

“Nobody raises their hand for that,” he said of wanting to work with people who are homeless.

But after taking time off from patrol work and processing background reports for the department’s academy, he volunteered himself to work with the quality-of-life team, which works directly with unhoused people in the city to try and connect them to services and housing.

For Rich, that’s meant driving people to the Multi-Service Center—Long Beach’s hub for homeless services—for appointments, spending up to 10 hours a day with one person to talk to them and develop trust and taking phone calls at all hours of the day because he told them to “call when you need me.”

He pointed to one woman who had lived at the corner of Anaheim Street and Pacific Coast Highway for years. Rich has known her for eight years, but it wasn’t until recently that she was able to get into the county’s mental health services network and is now getting help, he said.

Rich hopes that the work he’s done over the last six years would make Ashlee proud.

Through his work, Rich met Christine Barry, who founded the nonprofit “Ashlee’s Homeless Fund,” which she’s used to raise over $150,000 to help people who are unhoused pay for things like motel rooms, medical bills and even tickets home to be reunited with their family.

Barry proposed the park’s name change to Rich and to city officials, telling the Post last month that none of this would have happened without her, and that “lives have been saved” after her death.

The city has rules it considers before naming any city property after a person, typically requiring that the person had some kind of impact on the city to be eligible. Rich’s and Barry’s work through the memory of Ashlee, along with community support for the naming, was enough to win approval from a council committee and the full council Tuesday night.

The sign marking the new portion of the park will be paid for through funds from the council office representing the area and the Long Beach Police Officers Association.

Rich said his family is grateful for the dedication of the portion of the park, something that had already become a monument to his daughter’s life. It’s where everything ended, he said, but also a place where he goes to be near Ashlee.

“It’s a place that we can go to and feel connected because that’s the last place that she was,” he said.

Long Beach woman’s nonprofit helps local homeless population

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.