Mike sent the following note to neighbors on June 22, 2021.


Dear Friends,

Starting next week, we are launching the next phase of an ambitious and unprecedented program that will humanely address the homelesness crisis at Venice Beach, respond to the urgent safety needs of the housed and the unhoused, and fully reopen the park and beach for general public use.

Beginning Monday, teams led by the St. Joseph Center will begin offering housing, shelter and services to everyone currently living in encampments along Ocean Front Walk. The six-week initiative, a collaboration between neighbors, government agencies and nonprofits, will offer nearly 200 people a pathway to permanent housing and appropriate services to help them succeed.

The “Venice Beach Encampment to Home” program will not be led by law enforcement, nor driven by threats of arrest or incarceration. We will offer what works: housing, with counseling, or mental health services, substance abuse recovery services, and anything else needed to successfully transition people into housing.

The current situation is intolerable, and we must end it. Nobody deserves to live, or die, on the street; and all Angelenos should be able to enjoy our neighborhoods, beaches, and parks. We can do better, and this program creates a model for bringing people together to house those in need and reopen our public spaces, using a humane and proven approach.

How will this work?

Since late April, an early phase of this initiative has helped dozens of people move indoors from encampments on the boardwalk, in time to reopen the handball courts, volleyball area, and skate park to public use. We will use the same approach, with dramatically expanded resources for the northern half of Ocean Front Walk (OFW), offering housing and services to nearly 200 people.

Professional outreach workers and neighbors have been on OFW for weeks, developing relationships, and building trust. Starting June 28, outreach workers will begin offering housing to people living in encampments in designated zones. Over six weeks, they will systematically focus on entire encampments. As people and their belongings move indoors, dedicated Bureau of Sanitation resources will clean each area. Once the people currently living in each zone have been housed, the spaces will be reactivated with community programming for public enjoyment.

What resources are available?

Over the past several months, my staff and St. Joseph Center, with the assistance of Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and my colleague Counclmember Mark Ridley-Thomas, have identified a variety of permanent housing options including openings in Project Homekey, in shared housing, and through permanent housing vouchers.

For vouchers, we know that identifying willing landlords or available units can take time. That’s why we’ve made sure to include substantial interim housing resources, including up to six months of motel placements per person as needed—the most commonly requested interim housing option—so unhoused residents have a safe place to stabilize and begin receiving services, as additional permanent resources come online.

City Council will take up final consideration of the funding for this Encampment to Home program for Venice Beach this coming Wednesday.

Why now?

Homelessness has been a big problem in Venice and Los Angeles for a long time, but it grew significantly worse during the pandemic. Public health orders necessary to protect people from COVID-19 resulted in reduced capacity at emergency shelters, and caused encampments to become larger – especially in neighborhoods where there was already a significant unhoused population. This has led to overcrowding, confrontations, crimes and even fires.

As most housed residents honored Stay at Home orders, places like beaches and parks became campgrounds for those who did not have homes. As the pandemic has lifted, and the public’s appetite to return to full use of recreational facilities reemerged, the state and federal governments have made more housing resources available, giving us the necessary tools to help people move out of encampments.

Encampments are unsafe, unsanitary, and unacceptable. That is why I have fought against lawsuits, appeals, and protests to provide alternatives to encampments. Everyone suffers with the status quo; everyone wins when people can move indoors.

Who is involved?

This effort has an array of partners.  St. Joseph Center is the lead agency, but resources, services and support are also provided by People Assisting the Homeless, Safe Place for Youth, Venice Family Clinic, Self Help and Recovery Exchange (SHARE!), CLARE Matrix and others. Government agencies include the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, Department of Public Health, the Department of Mental Health, Department of Recreation & Parks, and Bureau of Sanitation. The Los Angeles Police Department, which is aware and supportive of the program, is not involved in this rehousing effort.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, whose presence and lack of familiarity with Venice and available services has been disruptive to outreach efforts, is not involved or participating. The sheriff’s rhetoric and approach are damaging, as is the criminalization of homelessness. It leads to re-traumatization, breaks crucial connections with service providers, creates barriers to housing and employment, locks people further into homelessness or poverty, and can lead to displacement into neighboring areas. That’s why our effort leads with housing, and not with handcuffs.

How long will it take?

The effort will take 6 weeks, beginning June 28 and ending in early August. Each week, St. Joseph Center and outreach teams will focus on a different geographic section of OFW.

How can I get involved and support this effort?

If you would like to volunteer to help support the effort, if you would like to donate materials or supplies to people moving indoors, or if you own rental units and would be interested in accepting a tenant with a housing voucher, please fill out this form and let us know.

There is a right way and a wrong way to respond to homelessness, and we are determined to do it the right way. The Venice Beach Encampment to Home program is an ambitious initiative, and we have a lot of work to do. If we work together, I am optimistic that we can house our unhoused neighbors and ensure that Venice Beach becomes once again a safe and welcoming environment for all.

Regards,

MIKE BONIN
Councilmember, 11th District