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Soledad Ursua: Drug Addiction, Crime, and Mental Illness—The Tragedy Unfolding on America’s Streets

“Experts keep saying … it’s a housing crisis. But we see it every day with our own eyes. When you see somebody who is passed out in their vomit or someone who is covered in feces and urine—and there are needles and there’s filth on the streets—that’s not poverty. That’s mental illness. And that’s drug addiction. And it’s very violent.”

In this episode, I sit down with Soledad Ursua, an elected board member of the Venice Neighborhood Council and a local resident of Venice Beach, California, which has experienced an unprecedented rise in homelessness and crime.

“The policies that are set forth, all they do is guarantee that people who are living on our streets are going to die on our streets,” Ursua says.

 

Jan Jekielek: Soledad Ursua, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Soledad Ursua: Thank you and thank you for visiting.

Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s incredible to be here in Venice Beach, and tell me a little bit about how did you start thinking about these issues?

Ms. Ursua: Venice Beach, this has been my home for the past six years, and today we have 2000 unsheltered homeless individuals living on our streets. We’re only a three and a half square mile neighborhood, so we are now second to Skid Row for the number of unsheltered homeless individuals.

It’s been over the past few years, just a huge wake up call. You can’t just go out on our streets and see this kind of pain and suffering and then forget about it. It’s in your face all the time, it’s not something that you can just let go of. Just over the past four years I’ve really seen it explode to the condition that it’s in today.

Mr. Jekielek: When we were just outside earlier today going through the neighborhood, I got a sense that you really care about these people, and you realize that they’re not somehow getting the help they need. Explain to me how you came to that realization.

Ms. Ursua: It’s because we live among them. In Venice Beach we’re living side by side with them. The experts keep saying that it’s not drug addiction, it’s not mental illness, it’s a housing crisis. But we see it every day with our own eyes. When you see somebody who is passed out in their vomit, or someone who is covered in feces and urine, and there’s needles and filth on the streets, that’s not poverty. That’s mental illness and drug addiction, and it’s very violent.

We see the same people on our streets—they’re there for months. You see them deteriorate, and it’s just awful. We’ve seen people who are missing limbs, the conditions are just so unreal, and our elected officials just throw their hands up and they say, “There’s nothing we can do. We need to build permanent supportive housing.” They’re really underestimating who they’re supposed to be helping. I don’t think they have any clue what they’re doing.

In January 2021, LA County Department of Public Health put out a report about the top causes of death among people experiencing homelessness. The number one cause of death was alcohol and drug overdose. The number two cause of death was coronary heart disease, but what we see is that they’re very much related.

You see coronary heart disease in older homeless individuals who have been using drugs for a long time, so really the number one and number two causes of death are drugs. The number three cause of death is transportation related. That is a homeless individual walking out onto the street and being hit by a bus or a bike. That’s an incredibly tragic situation. The number four cause of death is homicide, and the five cause of death is suicide.

Look at these causes of death. We see that number one and number two are drug related and alcohol related—that’s overdose. Number three—transportation. What that tells me is that we need to get people off the streets right now. Everything that we are doing today is leading towards these causes of death.

Just imagine what it’s like to be one of these homeless individuals who is suffering from mental illness. This is the most traumatic circumstance that we could be putting them in. Compared with the general population, a person experiencing homelessness is 35.1 times more likely to die from drug or alcohol overdose.

Mr. Jekielek: That’s an unbelievable statistic.

Ms. Ursua: There’s people on the streets who are a danger to themselves and to others, and what I’ve learned is that drug addiction is very violent. You can’t just wake up one day and decide that you are going to get off drugs, it just doesn’t work that way. What’s really needed is a serious intervention, and we just keep thinking that it simply will be housing that fixes it, and it’s not.

Mr. Jekielek: You know you arrived, like you said, six years ago. But things were quite different then. I mean, you obviously didn’t move here because you thought there was a huge homelessness epidemic, you weren’t a homelessness activist then. So give me a little bit of a sense. Maybe there’s a few moments that you remember that actually spurred you into action.

Ms. Ursua: Venice Beach has always been on the fringe, it’s a very Bohemian-like community. It’s always been a little bit gritty. It’s not Santa Monica, and that’s what I loved about it. It was very edgy, and so there were always homeless people there. But really what we’ve seen is just the drugs that have really changed the landscape.

Starting about four years ago, the type of individual living on the street just changed. We’ve seen a rise in meth, and that really makes people violent, so we’re seeing a lot of violence play out on the streets. About four years ago we started to see just a different type of homeless person on the street. Then it really metastasized during COVID, and that started in March 2020.

The reason for that is because in order to slow the spread of COVID, the city of LA decided to either fully or partially suspend many of their municipal codes. Prior to COVID we had rules where tents had to be down during the day. In order for people to shelter in place they decided that that no longer had to happen, so that’s where I really see more of the tents exploding.

Also we used to enforce no tents or no camping in public spaces. That’s the boardwalk, which is a state beach, so they stopped enforcing no camping laws. Then other laws were that you’re not able to sleep in your car on public streets. That’s why you see so many RVs today, because any vehicle that’s used as a domicile purpose is allowed to stay on our streets. You’ve seen this emergence of tents, camping, and RVs on the streets, just because of the COVID loopholes.

Mr. Jekielek: There’s a whole group of you here in Venice, and I’ve met some of them that are working on this together. How did that all come about?

Ms. Ursua: Well, we’re very concerned with crime, and most Venice residents are. It’s very dangerous to walk down the street at night, even during the day. I think the average resident really feels frightened at all times. You saw some potentially dangerous situations today, and naturally we work together to demand accountability from our councilmembers—there’s serious changes that we want.

Our police were defunded here in Los Angeles, so we’ve had to fight really hard to get our police restaffed, especially in the Pacific division where we have some of the highest crime rates.

We want to keep everyone safe, even the homeless. When you look at homeless and homeless crime, it’s 56 percent of crimes—all assault with a deadly weapon. Either the victim, the perpetrator, or both are homeless. There’s even the homeless on homeless crime, and so we need the police to really protect everyone.

Mr. Jekielek: One of the people that you are working with, you had actually noticed that their home was burglarized and that’s how you connected. That’s an unexpected way to make a friend.

Ms. Ursua: My neighbor just moved in, and she wasn’t there that day, but I saw two men hop her fence and start burglarizing the place, so I called 9-1-1.  I stayed there until the police arrived, and I made the report. I had never met her yet, so the following day she found out from one neighbor that she knew, and she was very thankful that I was there to do that, and she got in touch with me.

Now we’re very close, and I find that that’s how I end up meeting people in Venice. I’ve reported burglaries multiple times, and then I end up meeting the owner of that home. We have very few resources in Venice, I feel that we often have to stick together.

Mr. Jekielek: This is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in America. How can you say you don’t have resources?

Ms. Ursua: Well, first our police were defunded, so we have much less access to them. When we call LAPD, there’s very few things that they will respond to now. What used to be a crime has now been downgraded to a quality of life issue.

Mr. Jekielek: Explain that.

Ms. Ursua: If you see a man swinging a bat around, or an ax, you may call LAPD and they may not respond. If you see someone who is screaming violently, that’s a quality of life issue. Someone who’s defecating on the streets, someone who’s using drugs out in the open, those are all quality of life issues now.

Mr. Jekielek: So in the absence of police enforcing laws, you can get a different kind of justice.

Ms. Ursua: It’s called street justice. Street justice happens when there’s a dispute over selling drugs. Sometimes people will slash each other’s tents, they’ll set their tents on fire, sometimes it happens with RVs. There’s only so much limited space, and sometimes people retaliate against each other.

We’ve also seen many horrific fights on the boardwalk—fist fights using bats, pieces of debris. They’re very violent, and you can see, there’s gang fights where someone will get jumped very badly by as many as six individuals. There’s women being beaten during the daylight, this was happening a lot, and maybe this person was her pimp. But you just saw extreme levels of violence happening day and night.

Mr. Jekielek: I read your article in City Journal, “Squalor By the Seaside.” You were talking about this potential profit motive in the system, and that actually helps perpetuate this reality. Tell me about that.

Ms. Ursua: What we saw was on the Venice boardwalk—a crisis had really ensued, and that’s because our police were told to stand down and not to enforce the laws. We ended up in a situation where we had 200 tents on the boardwalk. We were looking at triple digit increases in crime. There was a shooting, stabbing, a rape, an assault happening at least once a day, sometimes more. Fires—we lost a commercial building on the boardwalk, there’s fires all over the neighborhood.

So we get to a point where it is just this huge crisis, and then our councilmember has to step in. He requested $5 million—all of the money went to outreach, that’s what we were told. That amounts to about $25,000 per person to put them into a hotel room, which was paid for by the state. That’s the model that our councilmember used.

Now what’s happening is when we looked at Westchester Park it’s the same game plan where we see a crisis reach a breaking point. We see laws not being enforced, and now our councilmember has gone back and asked for $1.1 million to do the same thing. There’s real potential here for, you let one area get out of control, and then you have to ask for money to fix it and remediate the problem.

Mr. Jekielek: Who gets the money? I mean, how does that work?

Ms. Ursua: A lot of these contracts for outreach, they’re no bid contracts, and they’re given to select service providers. The system is set up so that a bad player could really take advantage of taxpayer resources.

Mr. Jekielek: You’re saying this isn’t a housing issue, why is that being so misunderstood in your mind?

Ms. Ursua: I think there’s two reasons. One is probably it’s just a lot easier to look at people and call them homeless because that just means they need a house, so it’s a quick check. Another is probably for profit reasons. When you look at our elected officials, they’re pushing the most expensive solutions.

If we wanted to house everyone right now, we could, and we could do it very cheaply. We could provide overnight temporary resources. But we don’t do that. We’re choosing the most expensive options, and that’s because it’s very lucrative. This is a multi-billion dollar industry, and homelessness is very profitable. There’s a lot of people out there who are making millions off of this crisis.

Mr. Jekielek: When you told me that you saw some pretty significant red flags, tell me about what some of these red flags were. Presumably this contributed to your “Squalor By the Seaside” picture that you’re painting.

Ms. Ursua: Controller Ron Galperin put out an amazing audit on Prop HHH, and it showed that …

Mr. Jekielek: What is Prop HHH?

Ms. Ursua: This was raised to create permanent supportive housing.

Mr. Jekielek: Okay.

Ms. Ursua: It’s an LA city measure. What we found was that 30 to 60 percent of the cost went to soft costs. Those are your consultants, architects, engineers—professional costs. The money wasn’t going to housing, and that’s a huge red flag. Our soft cost shouldn’t be more than 10 percent. So there was something really wrong with these deals.

We estimated that the cost per unit would be around $300,000-$500,000. We’re looking at projects where they’re costing $900,000 now. That’s incredible because these are about 450 square foot units. We’re building with this incredible price tag, and a lot of the deals aren’t even including the cost of the land. One project here in Venice, they’re building at about $1.1 million per unit. At that rate we will never be able to house people because it’s too expensive.

Mr. Jekielek: A unit is for how many people?

Ms. Ursua: One person.

Mr. Jekielek: You’re telling me that they’re building $1.1 million units to house a single person that’s currently on the street, most likely because of drugs?

Ms. Ursua: That’s correct, it’s absurd.

Mr. Jekielek: It’s almost hard to believe. You obviously have a different solution here though.

Ms. Ursua: There are many low cost and highly effective solutions. One is shared housing, and what that does is it gets people off the streets to share housing together—share a room. That’s actually very effective because when you get people to share a room, there’s less likelihood of that person self-isolating and using drugs. It’s exactly like having a roommate where you can look out for someone, there’s a sense of community. The operators of this find that it’s much more successful to have people … it’s almost like a buddy system for them.

Share is able to house someone for $10,000 a year, and that includes their services. When you look at the permanent supportive housing model that I just told you about, which is about $900,000 just to build the real estate portion, you also need to provide them annual services.

We’re talking about $35,000 to $45,000 a year just in services like mentoring, counseling, all of that. Share is able to do both the real estate and the services for about $10,000 annually, so it’s highly effective, it’s low cost, and yet the city refuses to go with that model.

Mr. Jekielek: I have to say, I’m still scratching my head here. I mean, they’re actually actively spending $500,000 to $1 million for a single residence without any expectation of someone actually helping themselves to get out of the drug habit, for example. Is that what you’re telling me?

Ms. Ursua: That’s because the federal policy is just housing first. It’s housing first, questions later. It’s very naive. They just think, give somebody a house and we won’t have to deal with it. The policies that are set forth, all they do is guarantee that people who are living on our streets are going to die on our streets.

The people making these policies, they have no idea. They don’t understand this population. They think that it can all be solved with a house, or a home, it’s not true. We’re finding that these elected officials don’t really understand the situation at all. We’re the ones that understand it because we actually live with these people on our streets. So ask us, talk to us—we can tell you what’s really going on in our communities.

Mr. Jekielek: You told me something really interesting that captures my imagination. You said that in a situation where the people creating housing are doing it for profit, that actually creates a lot more accountability than people who are doing it in a nonprofit context.

Ms. Ursua: When I was working in finance in New York, when I was underwriting projects, at the time it was mostly for profit developers. That’s because they’re really the ones who did it righ, because their bottom line is just their net revenue, so they have to keep costs down. They’re trying to pick the lowest cost subcontractors, and so they are incentivized to keep costs down.

What I’ve seen happen is the emergence of the nonprofit developer where they don’t have any incentive to keep costs down, and they’re really boosting their basis. The way that they think about it is they’re getting paid a 10 percent developer fee, so would you rather make 10 percent on $10 million, or 10 percent on $100 million?

Mr. Jekielek: Probably the $100 million, I’d say.

Ms. Ursua: Well, now you’re thinking like a developer. For many of them, they don’t care what the cost is. They just want to make the most money so they need to boost their basis, and they’re going to make 10 percent of the $100 million.

Mr. Jekielek: I find this nonprofit developer model really fascinating. You had also told me that you see this as kind of a battle between socialism and capitalism. How does that work?

Ms. Ursua: There’re many groups out there, and they’re activist groups. These are people who shout us down at community meetings. They call us NIMBYs, segregationists, and racists. These activist groups, they’re funded largely by the Democratic Socialists of America. This is the DSA. They have an LA chapter, they’re very well organized. They also fight elected officials who call for law and order.

For them this is really a question of socialism, that’s what they are perpetuating, and how better to make the case that capitalism has failed than to have a bunch of homeless people living on our streets. For them that is their end goal, to see collective ownership. They do not believe in private property, and so they are using the homeless as really a prop to make their case.

They don’t want to see the homeless go into housing to get off drugs and go back and live their lives because if that happened, they would have to admit that capitalism works. So they don’t want these people to get better. They are using them to make the case for socialism, to show a failed state. They’re advocating for a bigger government. They’re using them like pawns in their game.

Mr. Jekielek: The cause is always the revolution, this sort of idea.

Ms. Ursua: The ends to them will justify the means.

[Narration]: Our team reached out to the Democratic Socialists of America’s LA chapter, but we did not immediately receive a response.

Mr. Jekielek: We saw one woman on the street today who looked like she [was] being trafficked as a sex worker or something. How common is this whole element in these homeless communities?

Ms. Ursua: It’s very sad. It’s something that is not really talked about much, but homeless women, they are the most vulnerable. They’re the most likely to get raped, they’re living on the streets. But what also happens is that they end up trafficking themselves. They do sex work in exchange for drugs, and that’s because the drugs are just so addictive.

Lots of people, they do not have free will, and they will do anything to keep continuing their addiction. It’s just this ongoing cycle of violence, pain and suffering. What you saw today, that’s very common. Homeless women, they will exchange their bodies to continue the path of using these drugs, and it’s awful to watch this.

Mr. Jekielek: In becoming a homelessness activist, you actually have become an anti-drug campaigner of sorts. You were actually a libertarian previously, so tell me a little bit about how that evolved.

Ms. Ursua: I am a libertarian, and like most I used to believe in the full legalization of all drugs. I guess I lived in a bubble and I just thought, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else, who cares if you do drugs? I also thought the same for legalizing prostitution.

But what I’ve seen in Venice, it’s made me question everything. Because I’ve seen people just addicted to these hard drugs, and when I see them, I realize that they don’t have any freewill. It’s really made me question everything that I thought I believed in when it came to legalization. When people use meth and heroin, they’re not able to make decisions for themselves, and it’s just something that I realize that I was wrong about.

Mr. Jekielek: Walking on the streets with you today, there’s a lot of debris, potential fire hazards. Certainly a ton of stuff that’s not according to code, or anything resembling that, at least to my eye. You had parts of RVs basically jutting out into the road.

Ms. Ursua: We have a lot of public safety issues, but one is fires. They’ve really emerged as one of the worst conditions here in Venice. The LA Times did an article recently and it showed that 54 percent of all LAFD responses for fires are homeless related. We have about 24 homeless fires a day in Los Angeles. Recently at the Ballona Wetlands there was a fire where 54 firefighters were needed and it burned five acres.

Mr. Jekielek: That’s incredible.

Ms. Ursua: As you saw today, many of the homes in Venice are old wooden homes. I myself live in a 100 year old duplex, and my worst fear is that a fire could take out the entire neighborhood. In January we had a fire start on the Venice boardwalk. It burnt down a two-story commercial building, the building was valued at $26 million.

The property owner is suing the city. The city is at fault, but at the end of the day it’s the taxpayers that are going to pay for this. What we keep seeing is that lives are endangered, property destroyed, and no one is going to take any action.

When we were walking today you may have noticed on the RVs, these hoses attached to them. That’s how the RVs are dumping their sewer, they’re dumping directly into our storm drains. Unlike our neighbors, Santa Monica, Los Angeles does not have an urban runoff recycling program.

So everything that you saw today—the needles, trash, debris, masks, and even people’s sewage from the RVs—it all goes into our storm drains and it pumps directly out into the Pacific Ocean. So we actually have raw sewage pumping out into the ocean.

We’ve seen many needles on the sand, especially after a big rain. What happens is it goes into the storm drains and it’s washed out. There was a time when we counted 15 needles, because our storm drain on Rose Avenue empties directly onto the sand. I didn’t realize that it was this bad until about a year ago. I will never run barefoot on the beach again. I used to love doing that until I went to go do some due diligence for myself and saw the 15 needles there, I’m horrified now. I can’t believe that I even lived here for so long and I didn’t know that was happening.

Mr. Jekielek: So one of the places that we walked by, it seemed intended to be a solution to the issue of too many people out on the street, this Bridge Housing project in Main Street. Tell me about that.

Ms. Ursua: In 2018, Mayor Garcetti and Councilmember Bonin came to Venice and they pitched us Bridge Housing. They told us that with opening this 154 bed shelter, we would be able to break up the encampments.

We were promised a special enforcement zone where we would have additional cleaning, and we would have extra security. We would have a special LAPD detail car specifically for that area. In theory it was great because if we accepted this program we would get extra cleaning and extra security.

It turns out that we got the complete opposite of that. During the defund the police cuts, they took away that detail car, so we actually had even less policing. And then what you saw today, some of those pictures, the special enforcement cleaning zone, it was never enforced, and that’s also due to COVID. COVID-19 guidance, it’s just allowed every elected official to just throw their hands up and absolve themselves of any responsibility.

What we saw is that the tents started piling up right outside of Bridge Housing, right outside there were about 40 different tents. What the city ended up doing was they had to clear that encampment because there were fires there. One of my neighbor’s cars was parked right there and the tent caught fire and it totaled his car. We saw some of the palm trees that were destroyed and burnt.

The only way for the city to basically move the tent was they had to put up a large fence. Then they put in planters there, they put in succulents so that people could not come back. The longer that we leave people on the streets, the greater the increase that they will die on our streets, so we need people to come inside.

When there’re more tents clustered together, that increases the risk that people are using drugs. It makes them more of a target because the drug dealers, that’s their market. They’re looking for vulnerable people. The larger the encampment means the greater interest a drug dealer will spend on that encampment.

Mr. Jekielek: I also understand that this Bridge Housing, there’s even drug dealing happening there?

Ms. Ursua: There’ve been people who have caught it outside, we hear that it’s inside as well. Gang members and drug dealers will always find a way to get to their customers. We hear this too in permanent supportive housing, that there are people who get apartments on the inside. That is their business. They are selling to vulnerable populations, and when we put them together in big amounts, like 154 people, that just makes them easy prey for the drug dealers.

Mr. Jekielek: I keep coming back to this question of interventions. It seems to me like this housing model could work if people are actually being helped to stop their addiction in this case. But if they’re left unchecked, then it creates a situation that you’re describing. Why aren’t these interventions happening?

Ms. Ursua: Well, if you look at Bridge Housing specifically, there are no requirements for going into Bridge Housing, you do not have to be sober. If there’s 154 people in there, let’s say there’s one person who really is trying to get sober. It’ll never happen, and that’s because they’ll be surrounded by people who are using.

On one hand we’re saying that we want people to come indoors and to sober up, but our policy decisions tell us otherwise. There’s really no chance for anyone to get sober in there, it’s such a large population. Even if a few people are using, it could really trigger you.

Mr. Jekielek: You showed me the string of RVs parked alongside this protected area, the Ballona Wetlands.

Ms. Ursua: That’s right, the Ballona Wetlands State Ecological Reserve is a state park. We’ve seen this turn into a makeshift RV camp, there’s people parked there. It’s really become a source of lawlessness. There’s been multiple shootings there and multiple fires. A recent fire there took 54 firefighters and we lost five acres of the wetlands there.

Mr. Jekielek: It’s odd to think about tents and RVs that are essentially illegally parked or placed as being domiciles, and you were telling me there’s all sorts of troublesome side effects from this.

Ms. Ursua: This is one of the issues that the police run into where they feel like they’re handcuffed. Because if they’re chasing a perp and they go into a tent and zip the tent up, they have to treat that tent as private property, meaning they would need to get a search warrant. The police cannot enter a tent. The same for RVs—if it’s being used for a domicile purpose, it has to be treated the same as a residence.

Also what’s happening is RVs are allowed to have guns in their RVs as long as it’s kept in a safe box and it’s locked away. So we just see this absurd way of policing where our police are not able to enforce any laws. They’re not able to keep the residents safe, they’re not able to keep the homeless safe, and it’s because they’re not able to do their job. Tthey’re really handcuffed.

Mr. Jekielek: How has the sheriff been able to help in this situation? Because a lot of people aren’t familiar with this, but this is another branch of law enforcement that presumably you seem to be counting on to some extent.

Ms. Ursua: Yes. Well, Sheriff Villanueva is the sheriff of LA County. Typically, what the sheriff does is he defers to local law enforcement, so in this case it would be LAPD. But what’s happened now is that LAPD has been handcuffed, they’re not able to do their job. That is why he’s stepping in, he does have jurisdiction.

Los Angeles is within the County of LA, and for many residents, we really see Villanueva as the only one who’s watching out for us, the only one who’s going to demand more, and just demand that we’re taken care of and that law and order is enforced.

Mr. Jekielek: We keep hearing this mantra: that one, it’s a homelessness issue, and two, that homelessness isn’t connected with increases in crime, that that’s some weird propaganda. What are your thoughts?

Ms. Ursua: Well, our councilmember had told us that he can’t accept the idea that there’s a link between crime and homelessness. What we saw was the total opposite. On the boardwalk, after the 200 tents were cleared, we saw major decreases in crime. We saw homicides drop by a hundred percent, rape by 50 percent. We saw a decrease of 65 percent for assault with a deadly weapon. Total violent crime was down 51 percent. Even grand theft auto was down 50 percent. So you really do see that there is a link between huge encampments and crime.

Mr. Jekielek: We walked through Westchester Park, and we had a funny conversation there. I said, “Can we really walk through here?” And you said, “Hey, this is a public park.” That’s very interesting and telling, the public spaces aren’t becoming as public anymore,

Ms. Ursua: You really see the privatization of public space. I said, “Yes, of course it’s a public park, of course we can go there,” but then once you’re standing there you start to get a little nervous. You feel like you are on someone’s turf. You feel really nervous being there. You’re not sure what can happen to you, if something will happen to you. I think it’s natural to fear for your safety, and it makes you not want to be in that area.

We were standing by the basketball courts. There are kids who used to play basketball there every day after school, they can’t use that anymore. There’s also a community pool that’s been shut down. Apparently, it’s been too dangerous for people to use the pool so they had to shut it down. It’s also a library there. I mean, would you want your children to use that library? It’s so dangerous that we lose our public space.

Mr. Jekielek: Yes, and right out the window of the library, who knows what you’re going to see.

Ms. Ursua: Yes, it’s definitely not a space where you would want to take children.

Mr. Jekielek: It’s been a tough road for you, so what is the path forward? What is the way through this?

Ms. Ursua: The path forward is through leadership, and there will be an opportunity. Our councilmembers are up for election. I think all of this is really, we’re going to see a change in the polls. LA residents, not just in Venice, LA city-wide, people are sick and tired of this. We have a mayoral campaign coming up in 2022. It’s a big election, it’s a mayoral election. You are going to see people come out to vote for change. At the end of the day I think we’re going to have to rely on the elections for big change.

Mr. Jekielek: Tell me what’s next for you?

Ms. Ursua: Well, we’ve slowly been organizing. We’re growing our circles, we’re talking to more parents who are concerned, they’re bringing their groups in. We’re talking to other neighborhoods who are facing the same issues. I’ve recently met some people in Westchester and we’re linking up now. Our group is really growing.

We’re everyday residents who demand accountability, we want real solutions for the homeless. We want them to be treated for mental illness and drug addiction issues. So we’re growing in numbers, and I think especially in Los Angeles. Iit’s not just Venice Beach that sees this daily, it’s everywhere now.

Every part of LA is dealing with homelessness, and people are starting to wake up. They’re starting to see that there’s corruption, and the homeless are being used for financial gain from some of these service providers or developers.

People are really waking up and they’re starting to see that it’s not just a housing issue. It’s not as simple as giving someone a home, it’s much deeper rooted than that. So I’m hopeful that people are waking up and that we’ll finally be able to get something done, and to see a real solution for our most vulnerable people.

Mr. Jekielek: Well Soledad Ursua, such a pleasure to have you on.

Ms. Ursua: Thank you and thank you for coming to visit us.

[Narration]: Our team reached out to Councilmember Mike Bonin’s office, but we did not immediately receive a response.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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