Homelessness is on the rise in Venice, especially when it comes to people living in vehicles

One of Venice’s ubiquitous RVs recently burst into flames

Many who live in Venice will tell you there have never been so many people living in RVs, vans and cars parked on local streets. Now they have some data to back that up.

Amid the 16% year-over-year increase of homelessness within the city of Los Angeles brought to light by this year’s homeless count, the number of homeless people in Venice increased from 852 to 1,101 — a spike of 29% — according to newly posted Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority data.

A major driver of Venice’s growing homeless population was in fact more people sleeping in RVs, vans and cars, which increased by 65% (!) from 271 in last year’s count to 447 in this year’s count. People living in cars increased most, from 53 to 118 (122%); people living in vans, not so much (123 to 165, or 34%); and people living in RVs — the most visible of the three — climbed from 95 to 164, about 72%.

In other Westside neighborhoods, the number of people living in vehicles decreased. Even though overall homelessness went up 18% in Mar Vista (134 to 159), the number of people sleeping in vehicles went down — especially people in RVs, from 71 to 58. And as overall homelessness actually decreased in Westchester, Del Rey and Playa del Rey (more on that next week), so did the number of people sleeping in cars, vans and RVs — from 83 to 40 in Westchester-Playa, and from 41 to 24 in Del Rey.

Some of the Venice residents organizing in opposition to temporary homeless housing on the former Metro bus yard on Main Street complain that adjacent streets have become a free-for-all when it comes to people parking and living in RVs. Many are convinced that parking enforcement has basically stopped writing citations for RVs parked in Venice, thereby encouraging their continued proliferation.

One Venice resident tells The Argonaut she received a $93 parking ticket for blocking a bike lane near Main, but a bunch of RVs doing the same thing for days on end weren’t (and aren’t being) cited. After one of the RVs consistently parked on Main near Rose Avenue caught fire in late May — and the scorched hunk of metal just sat there for two days — she vented her long-burning frustration in an angry email to the council office and LAPD brass. “Are we living in Venezuela?” she asked.

Last week the Los Angeles City Council affirmed their belief in the city’s authority to impound vehicles for unpaid parking tickets or expired registration, voting 12-1 to oppose state legislation that would expressly forbid them from doing so. L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes Venice, cast the lone dissenting vote.

“The bill was a mixed bag,” Bonin explains in an email statement to The Argonaut. “The city should absolutely and unquestionably have the right to tow vehicles left unattended for more than 72 hours, but I do not think we should be impounding cars with too many unpaid tickets — unless and until we have a genuine and robust system for people of low income to get reduced fines or pay on installments. Under the current system, towing and impounding vehicles of people in poverty can cause job loss, additional economic hardship, and homelessness — and that is a stupid and counterproductive thing to do in the middle of a homelessness crisis.”

Bonin makes a solid big-picture point: Criminalizing homeless people over a parking ticket does them real harm, and it does not feel like justice for the government to be confiscating people’s homes over a flat tire or a dead battery. But for Venice residents who feel overwhelmed by hundreds of people living in vehicles, what appears to be a blanket city policy of looking the other way is testing some people’s patience and draining their compassion for the homeless.

Designated “safe parking” lots to serve Angelenos who’ve been priced out of brick-and-mortar housing could take a lot of pressure off highly impacted neighborhoods such as Venice. But in the nine years since the late L.A. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl secured funding for an initial pilot program, safe parking has been implemented slowly and so far on a very small scale. You might say it’s time to shift this program into high gear.