Wed, Dec

Tents and Tarps:  Homeless Encampments Creeping Back on Flower in Venice

THE VENICE BEAT - In what should have been a happy ending after nearly a decade of encampments at the corner of Flower and Lincoln Boulevard, city officials finally cleared and cleaned the street of homeless encampments only to see a backslide of new transient living that has residents worried that all the work to restore some civility and sanity will be for naught. 

For there is a far larger issue and that is if city elected officials like Mayor Karen Bass and City Councilwoman Traci Park (CD-11) are committed to getting these encampments off the streets and those in these conditions indoors, what will be done to prevent the work that was successful to end outdoor transiency from reoccurring? 

For after a decade of debris, defecation, crime, gang activity and open drug use, the residents and property owners of Flower received a reprieve of sorts as the new Mayor and Councilwoman saw that the street was finally cleared and swept that ended years of outside disruptions and the chaos that came with it.

Now last month as reported here, the tents and tarps are back and sources tell me that one of the inhabitants had formerly been a resident of supportive housing on Rose, but was asked to leave because of behavior that was disrupting others. 

For the question that remains is what is the point of cleaning and clearing if an individual who was offered and accepted housing can then return to the streets without consequence? 

For what are the parameters for removal for such and individual or individuals? 

For it goes to a greater question of database management as to who is exactly on the streets of Venice and rest of the City of Los Angeles? 

Does LAHSA (Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority), this hybrid governmental white elephant that openly admits has done little or next to nothing to stem the tide of more homeless while communities like Houston, Texas are making major strides in reducing the overall amount of unhoused to the tune of some 25% year over year! Here in Los Angeles and LA County, the increase year-over-year was roughly 10%! And while California represents 12% of the overall population of the United States, it accounts for roughly 35% of the entire unhoused population nationwide! 

For in many ways, homelessness in America is now a California problem and Ground Zero for this epidemic is in places like Skid Row downtown and Venice here at the beach!

With LAHSA’s new CEO earning nearly $500,000 annually in salary, perks and benefits, is there truly an exit strategy to end homelessness or has it become an enabling mirage that masks the billions of dollars that have been invested in this cottage industry that seems to have no plan of action to identify those who need the most help and that means no longer tolerating street encampments here in Venice or anywhere else.

For the operating budget recently approved by the LA City Council calls for $1.3 billion dollars to combat homelessness, but the problem gets bigger and more expensive by the moment. 

To put this into perspective, the homeless appropriation is now approaching the size of the police budget which is $1.9 billion in the new city spending plan. The LAPD's operating budget represents 16% of L.A.'s $11.8-billion overall budget. But the city's total police costs — not just salaries and equipment but other costs like pensions and health benefits — for this fiscal year is $3.15 billion. That's 26.8% of the overall budget. Homelessness spending now represents 11% and not a dent has been made to decrease the size of the problem! For it begs the true question, how much money will be invested in enabling homelessness versus actually addressing the issue short term or long term? 

At the end of the day, what is the plan of action and why does Mayor Bass and Councilwoman Park tolerate this inability of LAHSA to get out of it’s own way? 

For if Flower backslides and becomes a thriving encampment once again, what confidence if any can one have for government action to address this situation that clearly has overwhelmed city officials here in Los Angeles? 

The residents of Flower spoke out at the July meeting of the Venice Neighborhood Council (www.venicenc.org) and now are gathering signatures that will be presented to the local governing body for support in the form of a resolution. 

Community Officer Clark Brown, a longtime Venetian and retired attorney has made homelessness in Venice his priority mission as he has worked endlessly to garner support for a proposal that exits the homeless from Venice to public parcels of land out by Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) that once and for all eliminates homeless encampments on sidewalks and other public spaces around the community. For whatever reason, Councilwoman Park has not signed on for this proposal as she has mysteriously flip-flopped on ending bridge housing here in Venice, the issue that was the genesis of her campaign to replace her predecessor Mike Bonin on the 15-member governing council. 

And while Venice remains the largest source of homeless in CD-11, the question of how much of the city’s appropriated funding is being used here to end this scourge on the streets? 

For how much does it take to clean and clear an encampment? 

It’s an important question as sources told me that the encampment that plagued South Venice Boulevard cost some $500,000 in funds that were earmarked to one of the numerous not-for-profit organizations that are contracted with Los Angeles to clean things up. 

For if it takes $500,000 to cleanup an encampment, isn’t it obvious that the dollars flowing to these so-called not-for-profit providers truly are at the source of the problem, and thus a permanent solution will never actually be sought or provided? 

That the free flow of endless spending has created this cottage industry of homelessness and that the real goal is to enable and not eliminate homelessness here in LA? 

For the cost to contain and cleanup the homeless issue is indeed murky and mysterious. 

It’s easy to figure out the hard dollar costs of public safety like the LAPD where the dollars are spent on employees, benefits, equipment and deployment. They have an organizational chart and are accountable to goals and objectives set forth by the Chief of Police, the Mayor’s Office and the LA City Council. 

But what exactly is the pie chart of spending of $1.3 billion by LA for 2023-24 when it comes to homelessness? 

What exactly will be spent to get individuals off the streets first and foremost? 

What is that specific dollar amount? 

And what are the hard costs like employees and the soft costs such as consulting fees or agreements with the numerous service providers that have failed and failed miserably in decreasing the overall homeless population for more than a decade? 

And most importantly, what are the margins for these expenses and can these services be done more effectively in-house and cheaper by Los Angeles versus this hopeless and pathetic dependence on service providers who view LA municipal spending as a bottomless pit of dollars, an ATM machine for spending that have been systematically wasted with no semblance of results of any kind? 

For the fate of Flower is just not housing a few individuals, it is a test for this city to be held accountable and responsible that when streets are cleared and free of homeless encampments that they stay that way, and that finally someone like the LA City Controller’s Office audit and investigate this never ending sea of wasteful spending on a monster of expenditures that have helped no one and is getting worse with every passing moment. 

(Nick Antonicello is a thirty-year resident of Venice and covers the question of homelessness here in the community. A member of the Outreach and Oceanfront Committees of the Venice Neighborhood Council, the author can be reached at [email protected].)