Locals want action but worry about impacts of temporary homeless housing on Main Street

By Gary Walker

L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin faced a swarm of constituents and TV cameras.
Photos by Joe Piasecki

Hundreds of Venice residents packed the Westminster Avenue Elementary School Auditorium on June 13 for an open house about the city’s plan to operate temporary “bridge” housing for local homeless in the former Metro bus yard at Main Street and Sunset Avenue.

Things got hot pretty quickly after the arrival of L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, a champion of the idea and Mayor Eric Garcetti’s broader “A Bridge Home” initiative. Homeowners concerned about quality of life impacts swarmed around Bonin and peppered him with pointed questions — and at times verbal abuse — for at least two hours, with the presence of local TV news energizing the scrum.

Police intervened to stop a shouting match that erupted after one group unfurled a yellow banner reading “No Bridge Housing – Venice Says No” and bridge housing supporters attempted to obscure it from TV cameras by holding up printed blue-and-white signs reading “Are You In?” and “I’m In.”

Members of the #SheDoes coalition, an advocacy group calling for the rapid re-housing of homeless women citywide, clashed with at least one Venice resident concerned that activists from outside the neighborhood were putting their fingers on the scale of what should be a discussion among locals.

As for that discussion, many attendees said they expected a Q&A format with Bonin and city officials. Instead they found information tables staffed by public agencies and local nonprofits serving the homeless, community organizers with project-backers the United Way of Los Angeles, and representatives from a bridge housing operator who repeatedly emphasized that temporary housing “isn’t a homeless shelter.”

Another booth encouraged discussion of design and operational features, soliciting feedback to fixed questions about security, function and landscaping via stickers and open-ended responses to the project via Post-it Notes. Messages included “Is this a done deal?” “Security at all times,” “A bridge home should be a temporary structure,” “Be sure to have social workers,” “Build it here” and “Build it somewhere else.”

A man who initially complained about the info-booth format changed his mind about an hour later. Why? “It forced us to talk to each other,” he said.

Homeless activist David Busch told reporters he’s worried that bridge housing will criminalize encampments, and many of the attendees who packed the auditorium left comments via Post-it Notes.

Here’s what some who attended told The Argonaut:

“I don’t think that it’s going to put a dent in the homeless population, and I think it’s going to attract more homeless people. I think we’ll see encampments all around the bridge housing. They say that it’ll only be there for three years, but I don’t trust them at all. It’s like this is being rammed down our throats.”

— Travis Binen, who lives on Main Street adjacent to the bus yard

“I’d like to know more about it, but generally I’m in favor. I think people would like to get off the streets. And I think most people, even if they don’t want the homeless in their neighborhoods, would like to see homeless people off the streets. The problem is nobody seems to want them in their neighborhood.”

— Nancy Long, who lives east of the Venice Canals

“I came here thinking this would be an open forum to express our concerns. My concern is that [Bonin’s] not listening to the community or asking our opinions. … He’s just doing what he wants to do, and we have to deal with the repercussions. We understand that there are homeless people — we live among them, and we know they need help — but even with this bridge housing it’s not going to stop people from living on the sidewalks.”

— Scott Kramarich, who lives near north of Rose Avenue and east of Lincoln Boulevard

“I think it’s a fantastic use of the land. We have an encampment on our street, and I think it would be so much better for everyone if they had shelter. I don’t understand the NIMBY people because homeless people are already right in our back yard.”

— Patricia Greenfield, who lives about four blocks south of the bus yard

“I expected to come here and have more of a Q&A with someone with decision-making authority, so I’m a little disappointed. … They’re basically using this to keep people somewhere until they get them permanent supportive housing, but there’s only $1.2 billion that they can raise from Proposition HHH. You can’t build enough housing for all 50,000 homeless people … unless you raise another $5-to-$10 billion, which isn’t going to happen.”

— Jeremy Burdick, who lives within a block and a half of the bus yard

“I think this is totally needed. It’s a sad state of affairs that we have this many people homeless. … I don’t know why people can’t be more compassionate. Once the homeless have homes, they’re no longer homeless.”

— Paul Rother, who lives near the Venice Canals

Managing Editor Joe Piasecki also contributed to this story.