Andrew Keegan can’t seem to catch a break. International media have had a field day poking fun at the teen heart-throb actor’s latest role as co-founder of the Rose Avenue spiritual center Full Circle. The situation was no different last week after we broke the story of a May 8 state Alcoholic Beverage Control raid to confiscate kombucha, a low-alcohol fermented tea popular in New Age circles, during a Full Circle-hosted charity fundraiser.
We got the kombucha raid scoop in the course of reporting a much bigger story: the fatal police shooting of an unarmed homeless man in Venice.
Two days after the raid, Keegan attended a public memorial to Brendon Glenn, who was killed on May 5 in front of a popular bar on Windward Avenue. He spoke about bringing local leaders together to come up with concrete ways that Venice can alleviate its homelessness epidemic and address growing tensions between the very wealthy and the extremely poor. To Keegan’s credit, Full Circle hosted such an event that night.
The conflict that set Glenn’s death in motion — a spat between a destitute panhandler and the bouncer for a trendy bar, both men trying to occupy the same space — is an anecdote for the larger socioeconomic dynamic at play. Venice is a community at war with itself. It’s a turf battle fueled by a rapid influx of new money and 40-plus years of the city largely ignoring the refugee camp conditions on Venice Beach.
As Venice Community Housing Corp. head Steve Clare told us last week, it isn’t that Venice’s homeless population is changing. It’s that homeowners are becoming far less tolerant of the situation, which isn’t all that surprising now that even a tiny home can sell for upwards of $1 million.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Venice, is now pushing several promising ideas for addressing homelessness here and throughout the city. In a column for last week’s paper, Bonin proposed a coordinated entry system to move homeless people from the streets into housing and services, one that could be linked to a successful L.A. County program that fast-tracks the chronically homeless into supportive housing. Recognizing that mental health issues are often a driver of homelessness, he also supported putting more mental health workers on the beat with cops in Venice to help de-escalate confrontations.
We support each of these proposals, but to make them effective the city must create more affordable housing. Los Angeles spends more than $100 million per year — year after year after year — in dealing with the homeless, most of that (about $87 million annually) going into the Band-Aid of police response.
Spending all that money to maintain a shameful status quo just doesn’t make sense. Countless studies have concluded that it would be cheaper to house the chronically homeless than repeatedly triage associated public safety and health care responses. It’s time to try a new approach.
The city could build a lot of housing for what it spends to address the consequences of homelessness. But even as Mayor Eric Garcetti pushes for the construction of some 100,000 new housing units by 2021, it remains unclear how many will become “affordable housing” units that are actually affordable enough for somebody who’s homeless.
Residents of Los Angeles — and Venice in particular — must insist that in exchange for the traffic congestion and other trade-offs that come with increased housing density, we get a significant quality of life benefit in return: an effective response to homelessness that provides real help for the people who need it most.