Venice Homeless Reunification Project finds immediate solutions amid a growing crisis
By Joe Piasecki
After crashing his car during an eruption of schizophrenic mania, 27-year-old Paul had seemingly nowhere to go but into a downward spiral of chronic homelessness on the streets of Venice.
But now he’s back under his mother’s roof in Kansas and receiving mental health care — all because one person chose to intervene.
Paul is one of 20 success stories of the Venice Homeless Reunification Project, a grassroots effort by the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Ad Hoc Homeless Committee to connect local homeless people willing to seek help with an abundance of resources outside the typical social services continuum of care: their own families.
In most cases these connections begin with committee chair Will Hawkins, who chased Paul around Venice for about seven months until he was able to get him on a plane.
From one day to the next, Paul could be talkative or combative, lucid or incoherent. He would disappear for days at time.
“There was a long history of him being out there and refusing to get help. What I found so helpful about Will’s program and particularly Will was he became our eyes. He was instrumental in helping us understand how the situation was progressing or digressing,” said Paul’s father, who was referred to Hawkins through the nonprofit St. Joseph Center.
Safe Place for Youth, whose work also crosses paths with Hawkins’ efforts, is hosting a benefit concert next week to help continue and expand the work of the Venice Homeless Reunification Project. Local blues prodigy Cristina Vane co-headlines the concert with Ronald Troy Collins, who spent 30 years on downtown L.A.’s Skid Row before overcoming drug addiction to record his first album, a journey chronicled in the locally produced documentary “A Mighty Ground.” Photographer Hadley Hudson is exhibiting her portraits of healthy and happy clients of Safe Place for Youth. Venice Underground Comedy cofounder Matt Devlin is emceeing.
Hawkins hopes the funds will not only expand the project’s work in Venice, but also help to replicate aspects of it in other Los Angeles neighborhoods. He’s already reaching out to members of other neighborhood councils with blueprints for starting their own reunification programs.
While reunification isn’t an option for all or even most of L.A.’s vast homeless population, the intent is to filter out vulnerable people like Paul before they become harder to assist and house.
“What we’ve shown this past year is that communities can create pathways to housing without waiting for the city to build housing in their communities,” Hawkins said. “Even with shovels in the ground tomorrow, it could take years before anyone can move in to these projects. … I think we’ve been able to demonstrate there’s a fast, efficient way to get people off the street that reduces the overall number of people on the street who need housing.”
The second annual Home for the Holidays Benefit Concert happens from 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14, at Safe Place for Youth, 2469 S. Lincoln Blvd., Venice. Advance tickets are $40 to $60 at eventbrite.com. Contact the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Ad Hoc Homeless Committee at venicenc.org.