VENICE, Calif. — With hands full and feet bare, Julian Larsen walked to the spot he calls home.

“Everybody is different," he said. "Everyone has their own idea of home.”

What You Need To Know

  • Julian Larsen has been homeless for 35 years and has been setting up camp at Venice Beach, on and off, for the past decade

  • Larsen has no interest in being placed in temporary or long-term housing

  • He feels the garbage-strewn encampments on Ocean Front Walk are making unhoused people like himself unwanted in the area
  • Pamela Connelly, founder of the nonprofit Hopes for Homeless, blames the pandemic for the number of unhoused people at Venice and feels that organizations and nonprofits working together will be more effective at getting people into temporary housing than law enforcement

For Larsen, home isn't a place. It’s a thing: his sleeping bag, which he calls a skin.

"I am good," he said, giving the wrapped up bundle a pat. "This is my home.”

Larsen has been unhoused for 35 years, since he was just 17. He also sees his homelessness in another light.

"I’m an elemental," he said. "I love the elements. I love nature."

Most of the time, Larsen doesn’t even opt for a tent.

“When you are in a tent, you can no longer feel the wind on your face," he explained. "Indoors is great, but outside for me is better.”

Larsen has been setting up camp at Venice Beach, on and off, for the past decade — but not on the boardwalk, where the bulk of the encampments are found. He prefers to sleep under the stars slightly north of the main drag, "about maybe three bathroom stations down," he said, directing his friend Essex where to find him later.

Larsen explained that over the past year, things got really bad along Ocean Front Walk, with trash from tents spilling onto the boardwalk.

"And I’m thinking, this is going to be the end of it. They’re not going to let the rest of us be here," he said. "And as a homeless individual, this reflects on me. It pisses me off. It makes me so angry because it reflects on those of us who care. And if you care, you think to yourself, who’s going to want me around?"

But not everyone is ready to condemn or vilify Larsen and the unhoused community. Pamela Connelly founded the nonprofit Hopes for Homeless and has been coming to the beach for six years to help feed the unhoused.

Seeing Larsen at her weekly Sunday morning breakfast distribution, Connelly pulled him into a warm hug before asking him to fill her in about his life, his needs and his COVID vaccination status.

Connelly agrees that the number of homeless in Venice has gotten out of hand and blames the pandemic for it. But she sees the unhoused individuals along the beach as more than just numbers.

"I just see beautiful lives that need help," she said. "They need an advocate. They need support. We should never criminalize homelessness, never, ever, ever. You can’t make it a crime to be poor."

Connelly feels that if organizations and nonprofits work together, they’ll be far more successful at getting people into temporary housing than law enforcement.

“We’re going to do it," she said. "We’re going to get 200 housed.”

At least, those who want to be, and Larsen is not one of them.

“I’m not interested in going inside," he said. "I need the dirt. I need the ground.”

Larsen left Connelly's table with a box of food that he stops to share with friends he encounters on his trek a few blocks north. He headed back to his spot to set up camp and collect cans away from the mess and drama. He doesn’t want to be associated with what’s happening around the boardwalk or caught up in what might happen over the next few weeks.

"It’s a political nightmare," he said. "You know, you can incarcerate people. You can throw them in prison, you can give them tickets, you can find them housing. It’s not going to teach individual accountability."

Whatever steps are taken to clean up the Venice encampments, Larsen hopes it doesn’t make an even bigger mess in the long run.