Tensions were high among different factions of the Venice community that came to a meeting Sept. 23 to voice their frustrations and hear from Los Angeles officials about the response to the effects of homelessness in the community.
Homelessness has been a longstanding issue affecting the coastal community, where in recent years much of the concerns on the problem have been centered on people living in their vehicles on the streets. One of the complaints about the ongoing situation was recently thrust into the public spotlight when the dumping of raw sewage onto streets was allegedly connected to a person living in an RV.
Solutions to address the vehicle dwelling issue have been the subject of a highly contentious debate between people who argue the streets aren’t for living and those who advocate for the homeless, and the Sept. 23 meeting was no different. Hundreds packed the Westminster Elementary School auditorium in Venice to listen to top city officials such as Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, Chief Deputy City Attorney Bill Carter and City Councilman Bill Rosendahl discuss ongoing and new efforts to prevent homelessness.
Others who spoke on the topic included representatives of the city attorney’s office, Department of Transportation and Bureau of Sanitation.
Some members of the audience were not shy in expressing their emotions regarding the contentious issue, calling out and even holding up signs, but Rosendahl said that’s all part of the democracy.
“I thought it was a great meeting because in the room, and spilling out into the parking lot, there was a good collection of Venetians with different points of view,” Rosendahl said. “To get everyone to sit in the same room is a healthy part of the democracy.”
The councilman told the audience that a main focus of the gathering was to have people listen to differing concerns on the homeless issue, adding that he refuses to believe it is an “either-or situation.”
Referring to concerns in the wake of the sewage dumping, Rosendahl pointed to the sign of an audience member saying he agreed that “our streets are not for toilets.” Following the August incident, the councilman had called the act intolerable and said anyone found to be emptying sewage onto streets must be prosecuted. He said he supports a plan to keep public toilets open after sunset.
“It’s an irresponsible act of our society to shut down the bathrooms,” he said.
Touching on the Los Angeles Police Department’s response to the community impacts, Beck, a former senior patrol officer for the area, told the audience that “Venice is really important to me,” and the Pacific division is committed to resolving the problem. He pledged to eventually add 21 more officers to Pacific to help with this and other issues, which received loud applause from residents.
“(Those officers) are not just for enforcement but to improve the quality of life,” Beck said.
Carter of the city attorney’s office also said Venice is a top priority for the office and he called the recent dumping incidents unacceptable.
“We, as the city attorney’s office, will do everything we can to enforce the law in that area,” Carter said.
Bureau of Sanitation assistant director Adel Hagekhalil, who reiterated that sewage dumping on streets is illegal, explained that the department responded with clean-up crews as soon as it received calls from Rosendahl’s office. Asked why it took days to clean up the streets after the incident was first discovered, Hagekhalil said that issue is being addressed by a task force of agencies, but the sanitation bureau is committed from now on to handle such incidents immediately.
The city officials gave updates on two efforts intended to deal with people living in their vehicles: the enforcement of a new city ordinance banning the overnight parking of oversize vehicles and a proposed program designed to help those forced to live in their vehicles transition into housing.
Last month Rosendahl announced the release of petitions for residents to request, by a two-thirds vote on their respective block, for signs to be installed banning the parking of vehicles taller than 7 feet or longer than 22 feet between 2 and 6 a.m. Following the approval of the ordinance, the signs are soon expected to be erected on blocks where residents vote for them.
In addition, a final request for proposals (RFP) has been issued to select a service provider for the so called “Streets to Homes Program.” The program, which will be managed by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, will identify lots throughout Council District 11 where those forced to live in their vehicles, who follow certain regulations, can park safely overnight and begin the transition into housing.
“The program is designed to create a pathway for people to enter and begin that trajectory back to housing,” said Michael Arnold, LAHSA executive director. “We know it’s a program that works.”
Arnold told the audience that there will be community involvement to select the parking lots.
Residents on both sides of the challenging homeless issue in Venice pushed for answers to the impacts that have taken their toll on the community.
“Obviously Venice is frustrated; we’re at the end of our rope,” neighborhood council President Linda Lucks said. “This should have been done proactively, not reactively. This situation has been festering and we all need relief.”
Some were quick to argue that the RVs should no longer be allowed to park on residential streets.
“Let’s put the campers into campgrounds, like at Dockweiler Beach,” Steve Burns said.
Others said the community needs to be able to come together to effectively solve the problem.
“We can work together to solve this with dignity and respect for everyone,” said Lisa Green, a candidate for the Assembly 53rd District seat.
Suzanne Kite, who said she lived in her car for three years on and off after losing her job, said there are a lot of options available for homeless people who want to help themselves.
“Being homeless is one of the most frightening and awful things anybody could be involved with,” she said. “There’s a lot of help out there if you want to partake in it.”
Rosendahl said he was pleased at the results of the meeting and he hopes to hold periodic updates on the issue of homelessness through future town halls.
“It was a good start, a new beginning and an opportunity of hope,” he said.