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Op-Ed: L.A. officials let homelessness overwhelm Venice

Tents on Venice Beach.
Venice Beach has become a tent city.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

There is a disaster unfolding in the Venice neighborhood of Los Angeles. Please don’t call it a housing crisis.

That term ignores what we residents see every day: the profound and deleterious impacts of drugs, overdoses and mental health issues with unhoused individuals on the streets. As a resident of Venice, a 3.5-square-mile beachside community once known for its bohemian vibe, I have witnessed the rapid proliferation of homeless tents and RVs. Today we have over 2,000 unsheltered homeless people.

What that shows is not a housing crisis, but a crisis of government and leadership. Our mayor, City Council members and county supervisors have abdicated their responsibilities and put us in this situation.

The city has been reluctant to use police to force unhoused people from their encampments, as it did in Echo Park in March. Instead, the Los Angeles City Council set aside $5 million this month to pay for interim housing for up to 200 people camping along Venice’s Ocean Front Walk. That would be a start, but enactment is already delayed.

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Having faulted city officials for months for their inaction, the sheriff of Los Angeles County, Alex Villanueva, sent deputies to the boardwalk last month along with mental health clinicians. Their goal was to assess the needs of individuals in the encampments. That, too, would be a start, but the Los Angeles Times reported that after only a few weeks, outreach had stopped.

Will no one step up to take responsibility? The excuses of “we need more time” and “we need more money” have worn thin.

As the chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Public Health and Safety Committee, I have seen crime spiral out of control. At one recent meeting, we were briefed by the Los Angeles Police Department on year-to-date crime statistics through July 3, compared with the period a year earlier: Violent crime was up 64%; robberies up 150%; burglaries up 93%; grand theft auto up 56%; and aggravated assaults or assault with a deadly weapon up 55%. More than 50% of those assaults involved a homeless individual as a victim, perpetrator or both.

As it turns out, the fear that Venice residents feel is well founded. Many women and older residents avoid going out after dark. The police have advised residents to keep all windows closed to prevent “crimes of opportunity.” Those crime statistics might be even worse if Venice residents tried to continue normal life while a slum grows around us.

We are left with only little crumbs of hope. Maybe the presence of the sheriff’s department will shame city officials into action. Maybe a court-ordered deadline to house everyone on skid row will prompt the city and the county to address homelessness throughout L.A.

Maybe not.

Venice Beach was once a refuge on hot days for many Black and Latino working-class families from inland communities. Growing up on the East Side, I saw families like mine visiting here. It was not only a lovely place to live, but a major tourist attraction, hosting more than 10 million visitors annually.

However, now that I am a homeowner here, I find myself living within a homeless encampment — replete with drugs, frequent stabbings, physical and sexual assaults, and cries from mentally ill individuals.

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Venice still has all the virtues that drew crowds. What’s missing is law and order.

Soledad Ursúa is the chairwoman of the Public Health and Safety Committee for the Venice Neighborhood Council.


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