A new program designed to assist people living in vehicles on the Westside in a move toward permanent housing is planned to emerge from City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office parking lots in Westchester and West Los Angeles.

The two municipally owned lots have been chosen as the locations to jumpstart the long-awaited program, but many argue that the plan needs to have a base in the community at the center of the vehicular living issue: Venice.

At a March 22 Venice Neighborhood Council meeting outlining the so-called “Roadmap to Housing” initiative, a number of speakers were curious why a program meant to address a local problem that has primarily occurred in Venice did not identify any parking locations there. Under the Roadmap to Housing, people who are living in their vehicles due to financial or other troubles will be allowed to park safely overnight in designated lots as they work with People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) in their transition into housing.

PATH, a non-profit that works with homeless people in areas across Los Angeles County, will manage the vehicle to housing program. The program comes as local communities, particularly Venice, have looked for solutions to an ongoing problem of RVs lining the streets and after many of the vehicles have moved off the streets due to oversize vehicle parking restrictions.

“We’re saying there needs to be an opportunity in a pilot sense for people who live in their cars or campers to transition to housing,” Rosendahl explained to the audience.

Rosendahl, who sat in the audience for the entirety of the March 22 meeting, said he listened intently to the public comments, which he found “extremely compelling” and prompted him to further explore opening a parking lot in Venice for the program.

“We’re not closing the door to the compelling discussion on Venice itself and the need that other areas of the district may have for those lots as well,” the councilman told The Argonaut.

“At the VNC meeting, at the Transportation Committee meeting, and in hearing from my constituents in Westchester, Venice and other parts of (Council District 11), it is very clear to me that for this program to work, we will need to find a location in Venice. My staff and I are currently looking for, taking suggestions and soliciting feedback on which public-owned parking lot in Venice to use for the Roadmap to Housing program.”

Rosendahl received unanimous support from his council Transportation Committee colleagues March 23, when he requested some amendments to the proposed ordinance 85.11. The draft ordinance allows for the implementation of Roadmap to Housing by amending the city law that prohibits sleeping in vehicles, making the activity legal for those involved in the 11th Council District program.

Rosendahl said he called for the amendments after some legitimate public concerns were raised regarding the original draft ordinance, which proposed that parking spaces for the program may be located on public streets among other provisions. Among the amendments were to restrict the safe parking program to Rosendahl’s office lots in Westchester and West Los Angeles, and to raise the limit of five vehicles per lot due to the use of the larger municipal lots.

The provision creating a 50-foot buffer between the supervised lots and any residential areas will remain under the ordinance.

The Venice Stakeholders Association, which advocated for overnight parking districts, criticized the original draft 85.11 law as being ill-conceived, poorly drafted and for potentially exposing the city to litigation. Following the amendments limiting the program to the municipal lots, Mark Ryavec, president of the stakeholders association, said the group is pleased with the new plan though they believe that the 50-foot setback from residences could set a dangerous precedent in the future and should be at least 250 feet.

“We’re very encouraged about where this has all come to,” Ryavec said. “We’re very happy that it ruled out the street segments and identifies two lots that are pretty well set back from residences.”

But some, including Karen Wolfe of the Venice Action Alliance, were not as satisfied to learn of the changes to the proposed law. Wolfe sees the planned program as a “shadow of its former self,” saying prior efforts tried to avoid creating a large concentration of vehicles in one area.

“I see this as a Roadmap to Nowhere,” she stated at the meeting.

Mike Bonin, chief of staff for Rosendahl, told the audience that the city’s effort to deal with the vehicular homeless issue has been a “long, complicated and controversial process” with passionate viewpoints on both sides.

“This is a situation and an issue where no one is 100 percent right and where no one is 100 percent wrong,” he said.

He explained that the council office’s lots in Westchester and West Los Angeles were selected as the locations to start the Roadmap to Housing program because they are sites that are not close to residents where the city can have the most control and where it will be easier for PATH to manage. The ordinance can be amended in the future to allow for other sites, but officials first hope to see how the process works in the two identified lots, Bonin said.

“First, what we are going to doŠ is prove that this program works in those two lots,” he said, referring to the municipal sites.

Rosendahl said identifying a lot for Venice is a work in progress.

According to the ordinance, the sites used in the program must have existing bathroom facilities and can only be used for “residential purposes” between 6 p.m. and 8 a.m. In order to be eligible, a person must have resided in a vehicle as of July 20, 2010 or lived in a home and became homeless during the course of the program.

The chief executive officer of PATH, Joel John Roberts, stressed that the focus of the program is not the parking locations but rather helping the homeless find a home.

“Venice is a destination place but the parking lots should not be a destination place for everybody. The destination place should be a home,” Roberts said.

The city has managed to secure about 50 housing vouchers and approximately 40 individuals living in vehicles have already expressed an interest in participating in the program, Roberts told the audience.

“We’re confident that this program will work because of the vouchers,” he said.

Though PATH has not yet begun the process of identifying housing for participants, the goal is to place people as close to the community as possible, Roberts said.

“Our first priority is to get people into housing as close as possible to Venice,” he said.

While a number of speakers voiced support that a housing initiative would be implemented, a popular request of the evening was to ensure that an overnight parking location was designated in Venice.

“(The council) should push to have some kind of public space in Venice especially for the people who’ve lived here because it’s their community,” homeless advocate Lisa Green said.

Following deliberations on Rosendahl’s amendments, the neighborhood council voted to postpone taking a position on the proposed ordinance.

Rosendahl encourages the public to make suggestions of Venice lots that might work, and after receiving the support of his Transportation Committee he is eager to get the program started.

“The real joy for me is that this is for homes; it’s not to have the cars and campers be permanent but to get them in a permanent housing situation,” he said.

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