The perpetual homeless encampment on Venice Boulevard underneath the 405 Freeway suggests a tale of two cities’ responses to homelessness, but the moral of that story depends on whom you ask.
The sidewalk along the north side of the street, which belongs to Los Angeles, is jam-packed with people living in tents. The south side of the street, which belongs to Culver City, has far fewer tents and is often empty. Clearly there’s a lack of incentive to camp out on the Culver City side, but why?
When confronted with the question earlier this month, Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin (whose district includes Mar Vista) publicly accused other cities in Los Angeles County of pushing their homeless into Los Angeles — or, in City Hall speak, failing to comply with a court ruling that allows homeless people to sleep on the sidewalk at night due to lack of alternative shelter options. Bonin made his outrage quite clear on Facebook, though: “It is maddening to hear reports from unhoused neighbors about how they are forbidden by police in neighboring cities from sleeping on sidewalks there and are directed to Los Angeles sidewalks,” he wrote. L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino, whose district includes San Pedro and Watts, backs Bonin’s assessment. So did a number of homeless people in the area who spoke to local news media.
Culver City leaders, however, are pushing back hard against the accusation that they are pushing the homeless out of Culver City or encouraging migration into Los Angeles. They suggest that Los Angeles is to blame for lack of action, while Culver City actually responds to unsafe and unhealthy encampments by guiding the homeless toward social services.
“I understand that Los Angeles city officials have not responded quickly enough to clean up these medieval conditions and they’re feeling pressure,” Culver City Mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells told The Argonaut. “But you don’t see those same conditions in Culver City, and we are complying with all federal court decisions.”
Culver City Police Capt. Jason Sims said Culver City officers take a “proactive” approach to policing overall and to homelessness in particular, but that approach does not include chasing them into L.A.
“We’ve very service-oriented, and every interaction with a homeless person is met with a service-first approach,” Sims said. “We have a dedicated team that has a mental health specialist who interacts with our homeless population, because often we find that mental health and homelessness go hand-in-hand.”
The Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count found 234 homeless people in Culver City this January compared to 119 a year earlier, an increase of 97%.
The local blog Venice Update, which has been critical of the city’s response to homeless encampments, documented a June 13 city Bureau of Sanitation cleanup of the Venice/405 encampment on the Los Angeles side, noting there was only one tent on the Culver City side at the time.
On June 19, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and several L.A. City Council members held a press conference touting plans to increase the scope and frequency of cleanups, an idea that started with an April motion by Bonin.
“The city of Los Angeles spends nearly $30 million per year on cleanups at homeless encampments,” he wrote, “and it is nearly impossible to find anyone who is satisfied with the result.”