Somehow homelessness is on the decline in Westchester, Playa del Rey and Del Rey

By Gary Walker

A human being was sleeping in a box on Tuesday in the wetlands parking lot behind the Playa del Rey Post Office
Photo by Joe Piasecki

The Greater Los Angeles Homeless count documents a 16% year-over-year increase in homelessness throughout the city of Los Angeles, including an 18% increase in Mar Vista and a 29% surge
in Venice.

But somehow homelessness actually decreased significantly in the communities of Westchester, Playa del Rey and Del Rey. This year’s combined Westchester-Playa homeless count dropped from 334 people in 2018 to 308 this year, a decrease of 7.8%. Del Rey’s count dropped from 201 to 95, a decrease of 52.7%.

No one has an easy explanation for why these neighborhoods are experiencing a decrease in homelessness in the midst of a regional crisis, though experts believe social services outreach efforts and perhaps a lower tolerance for homelessness in these neighborhoods likely played at role.

Housing nonprofit People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) has been active in Del Rey, Westchester and Playa del Rey for several years, conducting targeted outreach to people sleeping in vehicles
in particular.

“We’ve been very involved with Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority in consistent outreach and housing placement in the area. I think that’s been a successful model so far,” PATH CEO Joel Roberts said.

Roberts also acknowledged that it is entirely possible that communities that are less tolerant of homelessness may be pushing people sleeping in tents and vehicles into contiguous neighborhoods.

“I think that happens all over the county,” he asserted. “Communities and cities have three options when dealing with the homeless: They can tell people to go away, they can cite them, or they can try to house them,” he said.

Signs that prohibit overnight parking of oversized vehicles have proliferated in Westchester and Del Rey over the past few years, for example.

In Westchester-Playa, the number of people living in RVs declined from 83 last year to 40 this year. Sources were not certain whether the clearing of Manchester Square for LAX construction contributed to that decline. Meanwhile, the number of people living in vans dropped from 29 to 23 and the number of people living in cars dropped from 35 to 25.

In Del Rey, the number of people living in RVs dropped from 41 to 24, people living in vans dropped from 62 to 17, and people living in cars dropped from 46 to 13.

Del Rey Neighborhood Council President Matt Wersinger said it’s premature for Del Rey to take credit for its decline in homelessness, as it’s not clear whether any of its homeless are actually moving into shelters or housing.

“The problem as we see it is that those people weren’t necessarily housed, but simply relocated — hence the need to look at housing and homelessness and all the factors that contribute regionally, and not take Del Rey specifically as good news,” said Wersinger, who also chaired Del Rey’s Homeless Committee last year. “Increased parking enforcement and signage that discourages RVs would also contribute” to the drop in Del Rey’s homeless population, he said.

Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa member Naomi Waka, who works for a Santa Monica affordable housing nonprofit, agrees with Wersinger about not making too much out of these numbers.

“I know that we still have a lot people experiencing homelessness. I have noticed more people on the streets,” Waka said.

As it turns out, the number of people sleeping on the streets of Westchester-Playa, and not in a tent or makeshift shelter or vehicle, did increase from 101 to 178.

Waka acknowledges that neighborhood discussions on social media are not always kind to the homeless, but doesn’t think intolerance for the homeless drove down Westchester’s overall numbers.

“There is a presence of people not being welcoming on Nextdoor,” she said, “but I don’t think that’s a factor for people leaving the area.”