By Holly Jenvey

The Venice Neighborhood Council Homeless Committee held a special meeting via Zoom this past Friday (Aug. 7) to settle on a motion to clear local sidewalks of homeless encampments if they violate the rules of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The motion, which reads, “Sidewalks to be cleared if found to be in violation of Americans with Disabilities Act,” was submitted by Eva Greene on Aug. 5. It addressed how disabled community members have not had proper access to neighborhood sidewalks due to homeless encampments blocking pedestrian footpaths. Proponents of the motion cited that encampments violated the ADA’s 3-foot clearance policy for sidewalks.

Even though the motion passed with four members in favor and two opposed, there was still heated debate between board members.

“There are two separate issues and they are not mutually exclusive,” said Frank Murphy, co-chair of the Homeless Committee, who voted in favor of the motion. However, as the homeless would have to move their encampments, Murphy said they would also need to be accommodated.

“A lot of these encampments can be moved three feet and still be in the same place,” said Vicki Halliday, the first council member to vote on the motion. She drew on the experience of one of her neighbors, who was killed in a wheelchair after having to use the street. After telling this story, she voted in favor of the motion.

“We’re not trying to run all the homeless out of town, we’re trying to walk down the street,” Halliday said.

Council member CJ Cole and Homeless Committee member Brian Ulf also voted in favor of the motion. Ulf explained how the homeless had lots of rights in Venice and the city at large. However, he also observed that there is an ADA problem, which also extends to members of the general public.

“We have to have people out there to make sure these sidewalks are clear,” Ulf said. Though, like Murphy, Ulf said that this motion must work for both the homeless and disabled.

The committee and public discussed how this was a complex issue due to the lack of public housing options in Venice. Ulf pointed to “ProjectRoomkey,” an initiative Governor Gavin Newsom started in April to house the homeless in hotels across the state during the pandemic, as an imperfect solution.

“Anyone that’s in Venice can’t be put downtown in a Roomkey,” Ulf said.

Despite some homeless being sheltered, many are still living on the streets and removing them could further the spread of COVID-19, pointed out committee member Michael Rapkin.

“This motion deals with the entire city. If you kick them [the homeless] off the sidewalk, they must be placed elsewhere,” Rapkin said.

He also explained that limiting the number of encampments on the street won’t eradicate the problem of homelessness as a plan is needed for where the unhoused will go once removed from the streets. Rapkin said that more people will become homeless because of the pandemic and discussed how the current designs of sidewalks aren’t accommodating.

“Most sidewalks can’t accommodate an extra three feet,” Rapkin said.

Committee member Liz Wright joined Rapkin in voting against the motion.

However, the entire committee voted unanimously to remove lines that would pass the motion onto the U.S. Dept. of Justice Civil Rights Division as the motion couldn’t be passed beyond city limits.

There were 22 attendees in total with 14 participants.

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