EDITOR'S NOTE: Multimedia journalist Kate Cagle spoke with an individual living at the Venice Beach encampment currently awaiting housing and with Councilman Mike Bonin. Click the arrow above to watch the video.
LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The Los Angeles City Council Wednesday delayed a vote to fund Councilman Mike Bonin's initiative to offer all people living in encampments along Ocean Front Walk in Venice a pathway to permanent housing, but the vote won't delay the program's start on Monday.
The vote to approve an initial $5 million in funding, which would be used for interim housing for 200 people along the boardwalk, was delayed until July 1 for procedural reasons. In order to amend the 2021-22 budget, the vote must occur during that fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
"We're launching a major effort to confront the homelessness crisis at Venice Beach, address the safety needs of the housed and the unhoused, and fully reopen the park and beach for general public use. How? We're offering housing, not handcuffs," Bonin tweeted Tuesday morning.
Beginning Monday, St. Joseph Center outreach teams are scheduled to offer housing, shelter and services to the approximately 200 people who live in boardwalk encampments, which have grown amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who do not accept housing would have to leave the area by a certain date, Bonin's office said, but it was not clear how that would be enforced.
Outcry about the homelessness crisis in the area has been a factor in a recall effort launched against Bonin last week.
Bonin's motion to receive funding for the program, which was introduced on May 20, would amend the 2021-22 budget to add $5 million in funding for the program, according to Bonin's chief of staff, Chad Molnar.
Funds for permanent housing will come from resources already available. The motion would also instruct the city administrative officer and the chief legislative analyst to report on the likely total cost of the program.
"As most housed residents honored Stay at Home orders, places like beaches and parks became campgrounds for those who did not have homes," Bonin said in an email Tuesday to constituents. "As the pandemic has lifted, and the public's appetite to return to full use of recreational facilities re-emerged, the state and federal governments have made more housing resources available, giving us the necessary tools to help people move out of encampments."
The process to offer shelter to the boardwalk's unhoused residents will take about six weeks, and each week the outreach teams will focus on a different section of Ocean Front Walk, according to Bonin. During outreach for a particular zone, the unhoused residents will be given a choice of either accepting housing or moving out of that zone.
"It is a similar process to what we've used in the past, at the handball courts, for instance, or the Rose/Penmar encampment last year," Molnar told City News Service. "The end goal is to lead with the resources, offer housing to every unhoused individual on the boardwalk and free up those spaces in the park for public use and enjoyment."
In his email, Bonin contrasted his approach to that taken by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which has sent deputies to Venice in an effort to clear the encampments.
"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.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva held a news conference Wednesday to criticize Bonin's, the city's and the county's response to the homelessness crisis. He said it was the sheriff's department's responsibility to "preserve peace," per California Government Code 26600, and if the city of Los Angeles is not regulating its public spaces and preserving the peace, the sheriff's department must step in. Villanueva added that the city "handcuffed the LAPD," preventing them from using enforcement to prevent people from camping on the beach and sidewalk, which he argued was more humane than letting people die on the street.
Bonin responded to the sheriff's claims by saying, "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."
Lt. Geff Deedrick, who leads the sheriff's Homeless Services Team, said deputies will not stand in the way of the St. Joseph Center's outreach in Venice.
"We've worked with them on many projects throughout the county and we will support them here. The sheriff was also clear to me, do not undermine anything going on there," Deedrick said. "If we were somewhere and an outreach worker is connecting and they don't want our presence, we're OK to stand back."
Bonin added in his email that his office will build on an early phase of the initiative in which his office has assisted in sheltering dozens of people living on the boardwalk since late April in time to reopen the area's handball courts, volleyball area and skate park for public use.
Over the six-week period, as people are given housing and leave the encampments, the Bureau of Sanitation will clean the area. Bonin said in his email to constituents that his office -- with assistance from Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl -- identified permanent housing options including Project Homekey, shared housing and permanent housing vouchers.
He added that it may take time to place the unhoused Venice residents into the permanent housing options, particularly through the voucher program, as the city must identify willing landlords and available units.
In the interim, temporary housing will be given, including up to six months of motel placements, which is the most commonly requested form of temporary housing, Bonin said.
The program's partners include People Assisting the Homeless, Safe Place for Youth, Venice Family Clinic, Self Help and Recovery Exchange (SHARE!) and CLARE Matrix. Participating government agencies include the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the Public Health, Mental Health and Recreation & Parks departments, and the Bureau of Sanitation.
Bonin added that the Los Angeles Police Department is aware and supportive of the program but is not involved in the rehousing effort.
Venice Stakeholders Association President Mark Ryavec, who has been vocally opposed to Bonin's handling of the homelessness crisis, called the plan "tragically many years late and ultimately worthless unless (Bonin) allows the LAPD and Rec and Parks to strictly enforce the city's law against camping and tents in any beach park after the homeless are placed in shelter."