Beach Squatters Must Move On or Face Arrest

Times Staff Writer

Homeless people on Venice Beach will be told to leave or they will face arrest under a new law that takes effect Jan. 17, officials said Wednesday.

About 150 people are camped out in tents on the beach, where the population has swelled in recent weeks, police said.

An ordinance sponsored by City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter will ban overnight camping on beaches. Signs warning of arrest are scheduled to go up next week, said Galanter spokesman Rick Ruiz.

Pro-homeless activist Ted Hayes, who has set up a jumbo army tent on the beach, called the ordinance "rash" and earlier this week went to Galanter's office to demand that the law be rescinded.

But Galanter aides and police said plans to enforce the ordinance will go ahead on schedule.

"There are too many people who depend on Venice beach . . . (and) it is too valuable a resource to allow a small group to control it," Ruiz said.

Venice is said to have the second highest concentration of homeless in the county, after downtown's Skid Row.

Although there has been some concern over a possible showdown between homeless people and police over the new ordinance, Capt. John Wilbanks, who oversees the Venice area, said most of the transients will move once they see the posted warnings.

He added, however, that Hayes or some of his followers might "take a stand" and allow themselves to be arrested. Hayes has vowed to challenge the law but has declined to say specifically what he plans to do.

Wilbanks said business owners and merchants, who have been critical of the homeless occupation of the beach, are growing impatient.

"They call us, expecting us to take action and we can't really respond," said Wilbanks. "They're getting tired of hearing (that they must wait for the ordinance) and they're getting tired of waiting. They want to see action."

Police say violent criminal activity has picked up among the transients living on the beach. The police beach detail reported 402 misdemeanor violations and seven felony arrests in the last month, up nearly 50% over the previous month.

Police report that a man who was arrested last week for shooting at another transient was wanted on a federal warrant. Another man is in critical condition after being stabbed by another beach-dweller three days before Christmas, police say.

The number of homeless on Venice Beach fell to about 40 in November but increased again last month. The increase prompted the city to reopen a trailer on the beach offering referral services and outreach programs in an effort to encourage people to move off the beach.

About 40 people have been processed since the facility reopened, a spokesman said. Ruiz said the city has asked the county, which provides some of the services, to extend the trailer operation through Jan. 22. It had been scheduled to shut down next week.

The new ordinance is also likely to be a central topic in mediated talks among the groups fighting over what to do about the homeless in Venice. A third round of talks was scheduled for this week.

Lauren Burton, a lawyer with the Neighborhood Justice Center who is one of three mediators, said the ordinance had raised numerous questions among the groups about how it will be enforced, whether it will only push the homeless farther up Rose Avenue and whether it is only a "Band-Aid" approach.

"I don't think anyone believes (the ordinance) will totally solve the problem," Burton said.

Others who work with the homeless maintain that the ordinance is meaningless unless sufficient social services can be offered.

"Without additional resources . . . the need is always there," said Donna Scheifler, a Sister of Mercy nun who works at the Venice-based St. Joseph Center. "No matter how the ordinance is written, the situation is not radically different."

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