As many of you know, we have a crisis of homelessness in this nation, and it is particularly acute in Los Angeles and in Venice. In recent weeks, with encampments in Venice growing, the community dialogue has become heated. Some people have spread distorted or false information, and then demanded action based upon such misinformation, complicating the City’s efforts to find solutions to our shared problems.
In order to clear the air, share accurate information, and shed some light, my staff has compiled a FAQ (frequently asked questions) about the situation:
What is going on with the encampments in Venice?
Over the past year, encampments of people in bedrolls, tents, or cardboard boxes began to proliferate in Venice, mostly along Ocean Front Walk. Many of the people were down on their luck, and homeless. Fortunately, many of them availed themselves of the Emergency Winter Shelter program and connected with social service programs. Others were younger transients, living “off the grid” and on the streets. Still others suffered from alcoholism, addiction, or mental illness; many refused social services that provide housing and treatment.
In February, when the Los Angeles Police Department and the Department of Recreation & Parks began enforcing a curfew at Venice Beach, a number of encampments began springing up on or around Third Avenue in Venice, mostly between Sunset and Rose Avenues. A few encampments have recently emerged on the median of Venice Boulevard, near the Abbot Kinney Memorial Library.
The City has sought to strike a balanced approach: provide help to those who need and want it – and to enforce all applicable laws to protect quality of life.
What is the City doing about the encampments?
Despite the claims of certain activists, the City has taken consistent, strong and multiple measures to deal with the encampments. We have stepped up law enforcement with the LAPD. We have increased street cleanings with the Bureau of Street Services and other agencies. We have increased social services through People Assisting the Homeless and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA).
What has LAPD done?
Under the supervision of Captain Jon Peters and his staff, the LAPD’s approach has been tough but measured, aggressive yet fair. Since February, officers have made more than 100 arrests for a variety of offenses, from outstanding warrants to drug charges to violent crime. LAPD is working closely with city prosecutors to ensure cases are as strong as possible to stand up in court.
What sort of clean-ups have been conducted?
The City has directed multiple and repeated clean-ups of the Third Avenue area, removing trash and abandoned materials, disposing of and cleaning up after human waste, and removing bulky item materials. The most recent large-scale clean-up was conducted Friday, April 27. Further clean-ups will happen, and on a regular basis.
So, why are so many people still sleeping on Third Avenue, and why is it such a mess?
Due to two court cases, the Jones case and the Lavan case, the City’s ability to enforce its laws has been significantly restricted:
On October 15, 2007, the City entered into a legally binding settlement, agreeing not to enforce the law prohibiting sleeping on the streets, between the hours of 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. until it builds 1,250 units of permanent supportive housing. The City entered this agreement after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Lawyers Guild (Jones v. City of Los Angeles), found that the law against sleeping on the streets amounted to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment, noting there were thousands more homeless people in L.A. County than there were shelter beds. This applies citywide, meaning it is currently lawful for people to sleep on the sidewalks at night.
In a separate case, Lavan v. City of Los Angeles, last year, ACLU attorney Carol Sobel, the Los Angeles Community Action Network, and the Los Angeles Catholic Worker obtained a restraining order, prohibiting the City from seizing or destroying property from homeless camps in downtown’s Skid Row. This means the City can only remove abandoned property. If someone claims that items in the streets are their personal belongings, the City cannot remove those items without risk of legal repercussions. The City is currently appealing this decision.
I heard the City has built enough beds to satisfy the Jones settlement and you can make it illegal to sleep on the streets again. True or false?
That is not true — yet. The settlement says the City “will keep this policy in effect and operate according to this policy until an additional 1250 units of permanent supportive housing are constructed within the City of Los Angeles, at least 50 per cent of which are located in Skid Row and/or greater downtown Los Angeles.” According to the Los Angeles Housing Department, the City needs to construct several hundred more units before it meets the requirements of the settlement.
The Lavan case does not apply in Venice, so why are the streets not cleaned up?
Many of the same people who won the Lavan injunction downtown are seeking to make it apply citywide, and are preparing legal action against the City to accomplish that. Overly aggressive action could backfire, and make it harder to clean up encampments. The City Attorney’s office is strongly cautioning Bureau of Street Services to proceed carefully, and has crafted guidelines and a protocol to make sure clean-ups in Venice and other areas of the City do not have unforeseen legal complications, including a citywide injunction against removing encampments.
So, what CAN the City do?
The LAPD can and will continue to enforce existing laws. Sleeping on the sidewalks is not permitted during the day. Blocking the sidewalks and impeding the public right of way is not permitted.
The City will also conduct periodic clean-ups of the encampment areas, using a protocol being devised by the City Attorney’s office. We will have more flexibility in removing materials from or near encampments if those sleeping on the streets have a safe and secure place to store their belongings.
I am also pleased to report that County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has agreed to help assign teams of personnel from the Department of Mental Health to work with local social service providers to assist those living in encampments. A similar outreach program in Westchester Park a few weeks ago was very successful.
Why is the City allowing people to operate feeding programs on Venice Beach?
The Ninth Circuit Court has ruled that people or organizations have a First Amendment right to distribute free food. During litigation over the assignment and regulation of public space on Venice Beach’s Ocean Front Walk, the court insisted that the City set aside two spaces on Ocean Front Walk for food distribution. We are legally required to do that, and I support programs that feed hungry people during one of the worst economic recessions in our nation’s history.
What has the Councilman done about homelessness?
Since taking office in 2005, finding solutions to homelessness has been my passion. Some of my specific actions include:
- Securing funds to hire PATH, which has found permanent housing for more than 30 individuals who were living in their cars or RVs in Venice.
- Securing funding last year for the only early emergency winter shelter program in the county. Expanded the number of beds, setting some aside especially for homeless youth.
- Providing $400,000 in federal block grant monies so Upward Bound House could convert a motel on the Culver City/Mar Vista border into housing for homeless families.
- Supporting New Directions, Inc. in converting a house in Del Rey into a home for returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
- Joining Santa Monica Councilman Bobby Shriver in repeatedly lobbying the VA and the federal government to step up efforts to house homeless vets on the VA’s West LA campus.
- Supporting and securing nearly $1 million in federal block grant funds for the 1736 Family Crisis Center, which operates a youth shelter project for at-risk, runaway, and homeless adolescents.
- Supporting an affordable senior housing project in Del Rey, being built by developer Tom Safran.
- Supporting, allocating funds to, and finding a location for Stand up for Kids, which provides food, clothing and support to runaway and homeless young people.
- Securing $750,000 for Venice Community Housing Corporation’s permanent supportive housing facility at 15 Horizon.
What else do you plan on doing about homelessness?
I am currently working with LAHSA and civic-minded local residents to identify a location and funding for an emergency transitional housing facility on the Westside. I am also encouraging proposals from private and non-profit developers to build permanent supportive or affordable housing in the 11th District.
I keep hearing that the LAPD feels there is much more they can do to make our neighborhoods cleaner and safer and crack down on the encampments – but that you are forbidding them from doing so.
This is absolutely, patently false – and has been refuted, repeatedly, by Chief Charlie Beck and Captain Peters. My office and I vigorously support and encourage the LAPD to enforce the law. Captain Peters and I are in contact almost daily (and sometimes several times per day). We consider each other to be partners. I support him, his team, and his smart, measured enforcement of the law. Since February, LAPD has made more than 100 arrests or citations on Third Avenue. I’ve fought for more resources and flexibility for Captain Peters and his team, and he and Chief Beck will confirm that.
Is there anything else the public can do to help the LAPD?
Yes. Promptly reporting all crime to the LAPD is paramount. Property owners near encampments can also work with LAPD and install security cameras with recording devices. LAPD is also strongly encouraging residents to leave the enforcement to the LAPD and not take vigilante action.
What can you say about the angry feelings between Venetians over this issue?
We need less finger-pointing, less anger, and more of a cooperative spirit of good will. We cannot shout or accuse our way out of a problem; we need to work together, thoughtfully, as neighbors with a desire for a better community.
Addressing this problem requires a balanced approach. Some people insist we need more law enforcement. Others demand social services. We need both. We must secure public safety and preserve neighborhood quality of life – while respecting the law and the rights of people who do not have homes. We must help homeless people who need and want help – without enabling homelessness itself.
The question should not be: should we allow people to sleep on the streets? The question must be: how do we provide people housing, services, and shelter so no one has cause to sleep on the street?