VENICE, Calif.—“It’s like a game of whack-a-mole,” 30-year Venice resident Sean O’Brien told The Epoch Times. “They move one encampment and another pops up.”
O’Brien is one of the many residents of the beachside neighborhood of Los Angeles who said they’ve become involved in a tussle with city officials in its handling of new homeless encampments that are reappearing after a widespread effort to clear the Boardwalk last summer failed to thoroughly solve the problem.
Now he says the latest encampment is across from the Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library, which developed after officials cleared out tents and placed 56 people into housing from Westchester Park in November 2021 as part of a collaboration with Councilmember Mike Bonin called the “Encampments to Homes” plan.
Roughly 30 tents are pitched next to the city-owned library’s parking lot, with videos circulating on social media of homeless individuals openly using drugs in the encampment. The tents are adjacent to million-dollar apartment buildings across the street on S. Venice Boulevard and less than half a mile away from a high-end shopping strip on the famed Abbot Kinney Boulevard.
One of the librarians, who did not wish to be named, told The Epoch Times that although he was previously involved in homeless outreach in Hollywood, he doesn’t know if just outside of the library “is the place for it.”
According to the last homeless count in 2020, there were around 2,000 homeless people living on the streets in Venice Beach, making it the second-largest congregation of homeless in Los Angeles after Skid Row. The next countywide homeless count takes place this week.
Homelessness is a top issue for LA voters as the primary election is on the horizon this coming June.
Venice residents have always been tight-knit, but a handful of residents interviewed told The Epoch Times they’ve become even more united with a common goal to clean up the streets and place homeless individuals into shelter services. They also want officials to enforce anti-camping ordinances to discourage homeless individuals from pitching tents on the sidewalks and near residences.
A Venice resident since 1987 who requested anonymity told The Epoch Times that he’s closing his 20-year café on Abbot Kinney Boulevard due to homeless people camping on his property, defecating in front of the shop, and scaring his customers. He said he’s called law enforcement several times, but nothing happens.
Meanwhile, San Francisco-based homeless services nonprofit Urban Alchemy outreach workers were on the ground at the library encampment offering shelter and housing services to homeless individuals on Feb. 18 as part of the city’s unarmed CIRCLE pilot program.
The six-month program, which costs the city $2.2 million and the county $3 million, is set to run until June and aims to alleviate the LAPD’s call volume regarding homelessness in the Venice area. Deputy chief of governmental and community affairs for Urban Alchemy, Kirkpatrick Tyler, told The Epoch Times there are currently two teams on the ground in Venice offering services and providing community engagement resources to individuals.
“Our teams that are out on the beach are doing regular check-ins. We participate in calls with other service providers, engaging residents who are having some challenges to talk to other case managers or providers,” Tyler said.
Some residents critical of the issue have become weary of large nonprofit action, because when they look around, the problem seems to be even more pervasive, they say. This creates a tug-of-war between service providers and residents who have lost faith in these efforts.
“They pander to special interests while these people languish on the streets,” O’Brien said. “Outside of your $2 million property, you hear partying, screaming, the trash is building up, and they use your garden as a toilet.”
But Stan Muhammad—co-founder of Venice-based gang prevention services group HELPER Foundation—understands the issues facing the homeless from firsthand experience with drug addiction in his youth. He said he knows two of the homeless people staying in the encampment outside of the library, adding that “they’re Venice natives who have fallen on hard times.”
He said many of the homeless in Venice Beach were formerly involved in gang-related crimes, became addicted to drugs, and then fell into homelessness.
“The root of the problem is addiction, it’s not even housing,” Muhammad told The Epoch Times. “The thing that got everybody all messed up is the crack, and it’s really sad, it’s sad, man.”
Muhammad said the issues plaguing people on the streets of Venice are like a “chemical warfare,” and that for many who are “very intelligent people,” they’ve lost their way and “deal with the pain by getting high.”
One of the residents who lives across the street from the library encampment, Yolanda Gonzalez, told The Epoch Times that her husband tells her to “be home early” because “you don’t know who’s out here.”
“The homeless population really exploded in Venice about five years ago,” Gonzalez said, noting it was around the same time that Proposition HHH—a $1.2 billion bond Los Angeles voters passed to build 10,000 supportive permanent housing units—went into effect. That proposition only produced 489 units as of five years later, according to a 2021 audit by LA’s controller, Ron Galperin.
O’Brien said that residents can no longer leave mail or personal belongings on their front porches anymore due to theft. Although they’re empathetic toward the homeless, they’ve become jaded by the city’s ineptitude in handling the issue, they said. And they’re not alone.
According to a survey conducted by the Los Angeles Times and the LA Business Council in December, 94 percent of residents consider homelessness to be a severe problem ahead of the election this year, 37 percent reported feeling very unsafe due to homelessness, and 44 percent said they don’t trust local officials to adequately address the problem.
The night before The Epoch Times interviewed Gonzalez, she said a Fox News crew member was attacked by one of the homeless individuals in the encampment while filming a news segment. And during Super Bowl weekend, she said two tourists from Ohio told her they were touring Venice “to see the homeless.”
“Can you believe that? They came to tour the homeless problem,” she said.