For one night, community members in Venice attempted to step into the shoes of thousands of homeless people across Los Angeles as a show of support to their ongoing plight.
An estimated 75 people, both the housed and the homeless, set up beds on the front lawn of the former Venice City Hall, now Beyond Baroque, on Venice Boulevard Aug. 6 for an overnight “Sleep Out” in support of the homeless.
Up to 150 people were in attendance earlier in the evening for a program of speeches calling for solutions to homelessness and music performances, event organizers said. Among the speakers were civil rights attorney Carol Sobel and Paule Cruz Takash, president of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission.
The effort was initiated by more than 20 Venice-based groups, under the banner Community Unity, who were hoping to express support for the homeless in a different way and draw attention to the lack of affordable housing in Los Angeles. Steve Clare, executive director of the Venice Community Housing Corporation, one of the sponsoring groups, said the focus was also to stress that homelessness is not a crime and real solutions are needed.
“We wanted to create an opportunity for people to come out and express support for their homeless neighbors and make a statement that the fact that people are homeless doesn’t make them criminals,” said Clare, who noted the event is likely the community’s first Sleep Out.
Referring to the various laws against sleeping in locations like beaches and parks, Clare pointed out that there are virtually no public places in the city of Los Angeles where people can legally sleep outside.
Resident David Ewing of the Venice Action Alliance said the Sleep Out organizers and participants were hoping to do something positive to push for the needs of the homeless. Organizers had expected about 50 people to join the sleepover, but were pleased with the higher turnout, he said.
“It was really to try and call attention and raise awareness for the homeless,” said Ewing, one of the 75 who set up sleeping bags or tents on the lawn.
Community Unity group organizers believe some of the actions to address local homeless problems, particularly those living in RVs and cars, in recent years have not been an answer. Vehicular homeless have been ticketed for various violations and many of the RVs have left Venice after the placement of street signs prohibiting the parking of oversize vehicles, but this has shown an attempt to move the problem from one community to another, Clare said.
“There are many people in the community who want constructive solutions to this problem,” he said.
“We want to say to the local government that you need to step up to the plate and you need to offer some solutions. There needs to be people focused on solutions instead of pushing (the issue) from one community to another.”
One solution that City Councilman Bill Rosendahl has pushed to address the vehicular living issue is a Roadmap to Housing program, which proposes parking areas for participants as they transition into housing.
Solutions can be proposed in a number of ways, Clare said, such as providing more shelters, finding more transitional and permanent supportive housing and identifying places where people can sleep legally overnight.
Activist David Busch, who says he has struggled with homelessness for 16 years, said the problems will not be solved by people complaining about them but by really working to make a difference.
“We’re putting our focus on solutions to homelessness instead of just complaining, because that’s where the answers are found,” Busch said.
The Sleep Out was meant to show the many positive actions that the community is taking toward homelessness and that people recognize its impacts, he said.
“I think it’s great and it shows we all understand that these are not abstract issues, they are very personal issues. Homelessness affects everybody, housed and homeless,” Busch said.
“It’s an opportunity for this one night where the housed and homeless can get together, put aside their problems and complaints and share the humanity and share solutions.”
Ewing agreed, saying the sleepover allowed people to get acquainted with different points of view.
“I think it really shows that there are a lot of people who do care about their neighbors, whatever their circumstances are,” he said.
While spending one night outside may not give people an accurate sense of being homeless, Clare said the Sleep Out acts as a symbolic message that more needs to be done to end homelessness.
“It’s demonstrating a commitment on the part of many of us to put pressure on the local politicians to step up and address the problems of homelessness in a real way,” he said.