City will expand homeless services infrastructure with temporary housing and 24/7 beach bathrooms

By Gary Walker

Homeless encampments remain persistent along Third Avenue between Sunset and Rose
Photo by Maria Martin

Bolstered by news that homelessness is on the decline in Venice and the Westside as a whole for the first time in years, city officials are moving ahead with plans to offer temporary homeless housing at the former Metro bus depot on Main Street and provide overnight access to some public restrooms along the Venice Boardwalk.

Results of the 2018 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count announced last week show an 18% year-over-year decrease in the number of homeless people in Venice, but 854 of Venice’s remaining 975 homeless people remain unsheltered.

The city will begin 24/7 access to public beach restrooms at Horizon Avenue and Ocean Front Walk (near The Sidewalk Café) as early as this Monday, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin tells The Argonaut, addressing years of complaints about unsanitary conditions near homeless encampments due to lack of overnight bathroom access. The restrooms will be staffed with security and an attendant, Bonin said.

Temporary housing on the vacant 3.15-acre lot at the corner of Main and Sunset Avenue — two blocks from the perpetual “Skid Rose” homeless encampments between Sunset and Rose avenues — could shelter as many as 100 people beginning in late 2018 or early 2019, according to Bonin’s office.

The design of the facility is not yet known, but it would include 24/7 access for residents with on-site security and supportive services, restrooms and showers, access to food, and space to store belongings. Operations would be limited to about three years, when construction of permanent affordable housing is expected to begin.

Under L.A. Mayor Garcetti’s $20-million “A Bridge Home” initiative encouraging temporary homeless housing citywide, council districts will receive city funding to clean up former homeless encampments after bringing encampment occupants into temporary housing.

Bonin called the bus depot an ideal site for temporary housing because it is large, vacant and close to existing encampments like the one along Third Avenue.

“The lot will provide shelter only for people living in nearby encampments in Venice. Residents can get counseling, health services and job training,” Bonin said in a video announcement last week.

Bonin’s office will host a community open house about the shelter plan from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 13, at Westminster Avenue Elementary School in Venice.

Longtime local activist and Venice Neighborhood Council member Jim Murez lives only a few blocks north of the former Metro lot and is concerned about how city officials will implement temporary housing there to limit impacts on neighbors.

“They are gambling with the lives of hundreds of property owners and residents who live in very close proximity, most of whom have their life savings invested in their properties. If they fail, this area of Venice will resemble downtown’s Skid Row, which has property values more than 200% lower than similar properties a quarter of a mile away,” Murez asserted.

Kathleen Blakistone, a business management consultant at Sixth and Rose avenues, said it was time that elected officials stepped up to help the homeless.

“There’s so much NIBYISM here,” she said. “They’re not going anywhere. It’s time to figure out the right way to deal with homelessness, and this is a good move.”

The Venice Chamber of Commerce supports temporary housing at the bus yard but is wary of expanding bathroom access.

“We support the city of Los Angeles’ commitment to provide long-term solutions for housing. The chamber supports using the bus yard as a short-term option, as it provides a solution to addressing the immediate needs of housing the homeless,” reads a statement by the chamber to The Argonaut.

However, “We believe that keeping the public park restrooms on Venice Beach open 24/7 will actually exacerbate the proliferation of homeless encampments along Ocean Front Walk and potentially discourage people from moving to the bus yard, where restroom facilities will be provided.  Venice continues to be a leading destination for locals and visitors alike, and we want Venice to be a safe and welcoming place for everyone.”

Longtime homeless activist David Busch, who often sleeps at the Third Avenue encampment, plans to lead a picket of Wednesday’s temporary housing discussion. He’s worried that temporary housing for 100 people will enable continued “criminalization of the homeless in Venice” among the hundreds of encampment dwellers the Metro lot would not have room to accommodate.

“I don’t have any objections to what they’re planning at the MTA lot,” said Busch. “My concern is for the majority of the unhoused in Venice who will not get into shelter.”

Bonin told The Argonaut there are no plans to exploit temporary housing as cause to immediately displace encampment dwellers.

“What will not happen is as soon as we begin welcoming people to the shelter, outreach workers will then be dispatched to Third Avenue and the Bureau of Sanitation will be called in,” Bonin pledged. “That won’t happen.”

The number of homeless people in the city of Los Angeles decreased 3% this year overall and 5% countywide, but Westside communities represented by Bonin made even greater strides at decreasing homelessness than even Venice’s 18% drop. Homelessness is down 25% this year in City Council District 11, with 141 in shelters and 1,900 without shelter.

“The numbers are moving in the right direction, but we need to do a hell of a lot more a hell of a lot faster,” Bonin said.

Managing Editor Joe Piasecki contributed to this story.