Violence against the homeless near Venice Boulevard underpass raises concerns

By Gary Walker

An April 1 drive-by shooting at the Venice Boulevard homeless encampment under the 405 freeway — the second shooting there in eight months — has some Mar Vista and Culver City locals concerned that the growing homeless presence there has evolved from a public health concern into a public safety issue.

Local business owner George Frem, whose surveillance cameras captured last week’s shooting at the corner of Venice and Globe Avenue, believes a criminal element has either moved into or started preying upon the longstanding and highly visible tent village.

“… All the time there’s prostitution; all the time there’s drug sales,” Frem, owner of Exclusive Motors on Venice Boulevard, told TV news cameras last week.

Since the second shooting, L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin has requested increased police patrols of the encampment, weekly visits by the LAPD’s Homeless Outreach Proactive Engagement (HOPE) Team, and increasing the frequency of city Bureau of Sanitation cleanups to twice per week, according to his office.

Meanwhile, police are still searching for the gunman who fired multiple times from a moving dark-colored sedan at about 3:20 p.m. that Monday, one of the bullets striking the victim in his shoulder.

“The victim, who was released from the hospital the next morning, does not recall any significant details about who may have been involved,” LAPD Pacific Division Capt. James Setzer said. “Within the local community, this area is known for an entrenched homeless encampment, with varying degrees of drug activity. … At this point, any sort of gang connection or drug connection to this crime has not been established.”

There was, however, a drug and gang connection to a shooting at the encampment last July, resulting in the arrest of one man who has been charged with attempted murder and an arrest warrant for another on similar charges, LAPD Det. Melvin Campos said. But “there is no correlation between the two shootings,” he emphasized.

Susan Klos, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council and its committee on homelessness, had previously met with residents of the encampment — many of whom have now left, she said, as conditions there have taken a turn for the worse.

“People in the community are upset about the shooting. We’re starting to see a lot of needles there,” said Klos, who is planning to give presentations on local homelessness at the Pacific Division Station later this month.

Meanwhile, nearly 50 locals are part of a Facebook group called “Mar Vista: Make Venice Blvd Great (Clean) Again,” where discussion includes frustration over the encampments and related shootings. Formed more than a year ago, the group started in response to the Great Streets traffic lane reconfigurations on Venice Boulevard, which have driven a wedge between opponents of the changes and Bonin.

“I blame Mike Bonin for this. One shooting is one too many, and now we have a second one,” said Demetrios Mavromichalis, a prominent Mar Vista businessman and Great Streets critic who has been posting about the shooting on the Facebook group.

Mavromichalis wants the city to block off the north side of Venice under the freeway with a chain link fence.

“Something drastically has to be done. This is a common-sense measure that no one should be able to sue over,” he said.

In addition to the increased police and sanitation presence, Bonin’s office is also contemplating deployment of mental health and housing services providers to visit the encampment, a spokesman for Bonin said.

Culver City Councilman Alex Fisch said he “took a keen interest” in the shooting, which occurred just steps away from the Culver City border.

“The shooting was very concerning,” said Fisch, who spoke to Culver City police about the encampment, “… [but] I think we’re doing things right now with a services and housing approach.”

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Det. Campos at (310) 482-6402, Det. Luis Juardo at (310) 482-6369, or Det. Carlos Carias at (310) 482-6372.