Venice Beach : Storm's Fury, Camping Ban Drive Away the Homeless

Times Staff Writer

Irene took down her tent, loaded her bedrolls, blankets and dishes into two shopping carts and became one of the last homeless people to abandon their makeshift, storm-wrecked campsites on Venice's beach.

"I'm gonna keep moving around until this mess is over," she said. "Then I'll be back."

The one-two punch this week of a winter storm and a new law that bans overnight camping on the beach sent about 150 transients packing to temporary shelters, cheap motels and, in some cases, the streets.

Irene, 51, had weathered the storm that sent huge waves crashing through others' tents. But when police Tuesday issued a final warning that people found camped on the beach would be arrested, she moved on.

The law, sponsored by City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter who represents the Venice area, technically went into effect Sunday, but police waited until Tuesday night to enforce it.

Confrontation Avoided

The storm Sunday, however, defused any potential showdown between homeless campers and police by scattering the majority of the transients, including activist Ted Hayes, who at first vowed to defy the ban and be arrested.

Late Tuesday night, as a police precinct captain and a city attorney looked on, only a handful of homeless milled about on Venice's cold and desolate Ocean Front Walk before taking vans or walking to an emergency shelter opened at the Penmar Recreation Center.

About 25 police officers in jeeps and squad cars patrolled the beach through the night while a small group of transients held a candlelight vigil before leaving. A huge sign set up by the homeless--"There's no place like home"--remained.

Three people were arrested on the beach earlier Tuesday on outstanding warrants, but no one was taken into custody for being on the beach, police said.

Vouchers for a seven-night stay in area motels were to be offered to the homeless. Hayes and advocates for the homeless complained, however, that the vouchers offered only temporary relief.

Will Be Dispersed

"While this (the ban on camping) might have gotten rid of the tents, the people are only going to disappear into the neighborhood," Christie Kruse, a member of the Venice Neighbor-to-Neighbor pro-homeless group, said.

While police pledged to keep campers off the beach, city officials and others recognized that the ban is only a stopgap measure that does little to permanently address the homeless problem.

Summer 'Sandominiums'

"There is still no answer to the basic question of where do these people go. That's the sad part," Rick Ruiz, Galanter's spokesman, said. He called for joint action by city, county, state and federal governments to provide long-term solutions.

The Venice area is thought to have Los Angeles County's second highest concentration of homeless after Downtown's Skid Row.

When a downtown campground for the homeless was closed last summer, scores of the displaced flocked to Venice. Many landed on the beach and set up the so-called "sandominiums."

After a summertime high of 250, the number of homeless camped out on the beach had fallen to about 40 several months ago. However, it soared again in November, angering merchants and some homeowners who argued that the famous beach should be open to everybody and not taken over by one group.

Police said that crime, including several violent incidents, increased.

Meanwhile, this week's use of Penmar as an emergency shelter, though a temporary measure, angered some neighbors. Scheduled activities at Penmar, including one day of a preschool class, were canceled.

"The children shouldn't have to suffer so that the homeless have a place to sleep," said a mother of a 4-year-old who asked that her name not be used.

'Sanctuary' Spurned

Hayes on Wednesday declared Penmar a "homeless sanctuary" and staged a sit-in to press his demands for a permanent place to live. However, Hayes apparently turned down an offer for land to camp on, according to the man who made the gesture.

Rudolph Axford, a real estate investor and 20-year resident of Venice, said he offered Hayes a 40-by-130-foot corner lot in a Venice neighborhood. He said he would be willing to let Hayes and his "Justiceville" band of street people use the lot for two or three months.

But, Axford said, Hayes rejected the offer, saying that the parcel was too small and in a "bad neighborhood."

"Nothing could be as bad as what he created on the beach," Axford remarked.

On Monday, Hayes backed down from his original threat to defy the ban on beach camping, citing the storm and high tide that flooded his campsite and ruined six jumbo army tents.

"We would rather have Mother Nature run us off the beach than the brothers and sisters in government," he said. "While others were saving their homes in Malibu, we were trying to save our tents. We got swamped."

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