By Gary Walker
A plan to once again allow homeless men and women to store their possessions in a container on the Venice boardwalk has been met with nearly unanimous opposition — a rare moment of agreement for the beachside enclave on matters pertaining to the homeless.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin announced on Dec. 11 that he would follow in the footsteps of former Councilman Bill Rosendahl and authorize a temporary storage unit for belongings of homeless people who spend the night in winter shelters. Bonin also proposed using the same location, an area behind the paddle tennis courts near Ocean Front Walk and 19th Avenue.
Many residents and business owners, however, object to staging the storage program on the boardwalk for a variety of reasons.
Members of the Venice Neighborhood Council voted Dec. 17 to recommend allowing shelter users to instead store their belongings at the nearby Westminster Senior Center on Pacific Avenue.
There were eight votes for the senior center and three for the First Baptist Church, which already provides some homeless services but is about two miles from the boardwalk. None supported the boardwalk.
“The boardwalk is an economic engine for Venice,” said Daniel Samakow, who co-owns three restaurants near Ocean Front Walk and said the plan to locate the storage container there didn’t take into account the consequences for local businesses.
Gary Harris, who lives on Ocean Front Walk, said the area around the container last year had become “an encampment for the homeless” and said Bonin’s proposal was “disrespecting the boardwalk and the community.”
Deborah Lashever, a Marina del Rey resident who formerly owned a business on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, also thought the senior center was the best choice because participants could also access social services workers there.
“If there’s going to be a permanent long-term program, it has to be inside,” Lashever said.
Samakow said he and others in the business community supported having the location at the First Baptist Church because the Mildred Cursh Foundation and a Safe Place for Youth both use the church for their social services initiatives several days a week.
The church had talked the idea over with Samakow and others, First Baptist minister Samuel Crutchfield said.
Venice Neighborhood Council member Erin Sullivan Ward, who voted to offer storage at the senior center, questioned the wisdom of using the church in Venice’s Oakwood neighborhood.
“I think the residents there would be up in arms about this,” she said.
In an early December interview, Bonin said he doubted the church would be a good place for the homeless to store their belongings.
“The goal is to find a location that is functionally suitable with the minimal impact. I think that is significantly more challenging in a residential neighborhood,” Bonin said.
Other suggestions of where to locate the storage program include the St. Joseph Center, Venice of America Centennial Park (the tiny park near the Venice Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library) and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority yard on Pacific Avenue.
“There will be challenges at every site — challenges of permitting, of space, of many different things,” Debbie Dyner-Harris, Bonin’s district director, told council members.
Bonin said the storage program will remain at Ocean Front Walk unless and until a new location is worked out.
In the meantime, “As long as people live on our streets, it is humane to give them a place to store their belongings. Providing secure and safe storage of belongings to people without shelter gives them both peace of mind and dignity,” Bonin said.§