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Editorial: Homeless people on Venice Beach got interim housing. Can’t this happen all over the city?

A worker with the St. Joseph Center talks with a homeless couple along Ocean Front Walk in Venice
A worker with the St. Joseph Center talks with a homeless couple along Ocean Front Walk in Venice in July.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Over the course of six weeks, service providers aided by local officials moved 211 homeless people who had camped along the Venice boardwalk for more than a year. Most of them now have interim housing, mainly in hotels and motels. A handful went to the transitional shelter in Venice. Did it cost a lot of money? Yes. Did it take a lot of effort? Yes. In fact, it took a village — of outreach workers and others — to move and temporarily house the scores of people who had made the beach their home.

What it did not take was a force of 750 Los Angeles police officers, as was the case during the tense showdown at Echo Park Lake in the spring, when a large encampment there was cleared out. To be sure, there were police at Venice Beach. But according to city officials and the service providers at the nonprofit St. Joseph Center, which carried out the plan to move the beach dwellers into temporary housing, the police supported their efforts rather than complicating them.

One big accomplishment: The effort gave lie to the trope that homeless people living on the street are “service resistant.” Even people who professed their love of the view of the ocean from their tents left for brick and mortar housing. The vast majority of people living by the boardwalk at the end of June agreed to take housing by the end of July. In the outreach effort, the St. Joseph Center team also connected with people who just showed up at the boardwalk wanting housing. The housing options set aside for the boardwalk encampment were finite, but the center and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority will work on finding more housing for people who came looking for it.

So can moving entire encampments be a template for the rest of the city? Should it be? As with everything else involving homelessness, the answers are complicated — sometimes yes and sometimes no. In any event, we’ll need a lot more temporary and permanent housing.

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Venice Beach and Echo Park Lake are city parks, and as such they should never have become campgrounds. That was the primary reason for moving people. The camps had remained there during the past year because the city wisely followed the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not to displace homeless camps during the pandemic. So the city wasn’t enforcing its ordinance against camping in a park.

The Venice Beach plan had a few things that helped it work. Mike Bonin, the councilman whose district includes Venice, and Va Lecia Adams Kellum, the chief executive of St. Joseph Center, divided the boardwalk into five zones and took roughly one week per zone to systematically get people housed. According to Bonin, Adams Kellum and other city officials, everyone involved in this effort was on the same page. Mayor Eric Garcetti was briefed daily. There was a weekly meeting with Bonin, Adams Kellum, Garcetti, his homelessness leadership team and officials from the Bureau of Sanitation, the Department of Recreation and Parks and the L.A. Police Department. Between meetings, “we would all text each other,” said Adams Kellum. “I’ve never been part of anything like it.”

Another big thing going for this effort: Bonin had secured $5 million in funding for services and rental vouchers for some 200 people. And that’s just the first phase. Now St. Joseph Center is working to find permanent housing for the individuals who were just moved.

In the aftermath, new tents have popped up on the beach. There were nearly a dozen on Wednesday. However, outreach workers from St. Joseph Center will continue to work at the beach. And now the police will be enforcing the curfews there and the ordinance against camping.

Echo Park Lake has a fence around it and an entrance that gets locked at night. You can’t fence and lock Venice Beach. For the time being, the city will see if enforcement works.

Not every sidewalk encampment in the city requires this kind of urgent effort. And the grim reality is that the city doesn’t have enough housing — interim or permanent — to get thousands of people into housing quickly. Let’s face it, the city went on a housing spree to get homeless people out of Echo Park and Venice Beach. That’s not wrong. That’s fantastic.

If anything, the tentative success of these efforts should encourage city officials to redouble their efforts to find housing. Councilmember Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion last week to direct city officials to find funding for more housing subsidies for homeless individuals. That’s a start.


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