(Bethany Blankley, The Center Square) Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is urging the County Board of Supervisors to declare a local state of emergency to address the county’s homeless crisis.
“Enough is enough,” he said, citing increased crime, unsanitary conditions and struggling businesses.
“We’ve been inundated with calls, with concerns, with images from the news, from people picking up the phone, emailing, sending us letters, about what’s going on in Venice,” Villanueva told reporters at a news conference this week. “And that is a microcosm of what’s going on throughout the entire county of Los Angeles.”
Roughly 200 people live on the famous Venice Beach Boardwalk, where more than 10 million tourists used to visit every year. Another 2,000 homeless are camped throughout the neighborhood, the second largest concentration of homeless camps outside of Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles.
While the sheriff’s Homeless Outreach and Services Team (HOST) is focused on the area, their efforts are being hampered by politics, Villanueva says.
“The assumption is that every single subdivision of L.A. County has a police force and they’re doing their job, or better yet they’re permitted to do their job by the political oversight,” he said.
“In this case, we have an absolute failure of political oversight, who has handcuffed the LAPD, [which] was more than capable to get the job done and regulate public space.”
On top of that, the billions of dollars that have been poured into the area haven’t solved the problem, he added.
“It is a national disgrace,” Villanueva said. “All those 501 C-3 organizations … we’re going to talk about money; there is a homeless industrial complex, and they’re raking in money, not by the millions, not by the hundreds of millions, by the billions.”
The top earning employees compensated by the Venice Family Clinic revenue, a nonprofit organization tasked with providing comprehensive health care services to low-income Venice Beach residents, total over $2.8 million, Villanueva said.
Additionally, Los Angeles spends close to $1 billion annually on homeless services, while homelessness has only gotten worse.
“In fact, we’re way past $2 billion this year because this is just half of one year, so the true numbers are way up here, as the problem grows, like clockwork, year after year. So, you tell me, you think it’s time to regulate public space?” he asked.
Measure HHH, a $1.2 billion bond obligation passed in 2016 to build 10,000 supportive housing units, has only resulted in the construction of three buildings in five years.
“You cannot build your way out of homelessness,” Villanueva said. “It was the Los Angeles Homeless Authority themselves that said for every 100 that we house, they’re replaced by 120 on the street – that math seems to elude these people … our elected officials.”
Councilmember Mike Bonin disagrees. He said, “Sheriff Villanueva and I are very different. I believe in treating people humanely and with dignity, whether they are housed or unhoused. I believe everyone has a right to housing, food, and health care, and I applaud those who provide it. And I believe (and evidence shows) that the best, most effective, least expensive way to end homelessness is with housing, not with handcuffs.”
Venice is inundated with tents, trash, needles, drugs, and its local business owners’ shops continue to be vandalized.
Bob Carlson, owner of a local skate shop, described to reporters how his security guard was attacked by a homeless person high on drugs who “stabbed him multiple times in the head, tearing up pieces of his scalp. … He tore open his wrist and sliced his finger to the bone and cut him in several other places across his arms and torso.
“The people of Venice are scared and walk around in fear of being attacked, our tourists are gone, our restaurants and businesses are struggling. And one of the cultural hearts, the arts community of Los Angeles, is being decimated, and something has to be done about it,” he added.
Bonin, who received $5 million from the Budget & Finance Committee to coordinate homeless efforts, doesn’t want law enforcement involved.
“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,” Bonin said.
Instead, his plan is to reach those living on the boardwalk with outreach workers from St. Joseph Center, which residents say won’t work.
Last year, Bonin supported A Bridge Housing project a few blocks from the boardwalk, which didn’t result in getting the homeless off of the boardwalk. Homeless encampments, trash, and RVs still line the sidewalks around the project and neighbors are still afraid for their safety.
Villanueva says his office is going to start enforcing the law, citing California Code 26.600. It states the sheriff “shall preserve peace, and to accomplish this object may sponsor, supervise, or participate in any project of crime prevention, rehabilitation of persons previously convicted of crime, or the suppression of delinquency.”
“You don’t have a right to negatively impact the community and claim public space as your own,” he said.