LOS ANGELES — It’s a disturbing but routine call on Venice Beach: a woman passed out on the sand as tourists bike around her.
However, Stevie Cheatham with Urban Alchemy was quickly on the phone with 911 on Wednesday, while his colleagues tried to revive the woman. Cheatham is a new kind of first responder on Venice Beach, with the sort of experience you can’t get with a degree.
What You Need To Know
- The LAPD receives a call every four minutes regarding someone experiencing homelessness, said Mayor Eric Garcetti
- In Hollywood and Venice, Urban Alchemy’s outreach workers will be paired with a mental health clinician or licensed behavior health clinician and a community ambassador
- Urban Alchemy launched in 2018, training the formerly homeless or incarcerated to de-escalate conflict, respond to overdoses and foster connection on the streets
- The CIRCLE pilot is part of $1 billion the city will spend confronting the homeless crisis this year
“I lived on the street and in my car at one point, and this was about seven or eight months,” Cheatham said as he walked along the boardwalk. “I know exactly what these people are going through, firsthand.”
Urban Alchemy is the core of a new unarmed crisis response pilot called CIRCLE that will be connected to 911 in December, according to Mayor Eric Garcetti, who announced the initiative last week. In Hollywood and Venice, Urban Alchemy’s outreach workers will be paired with a mental health clinician or licensed behavior health clinician and a community ambassador and available 24/7.
“[This will be] providing a more effective model to get unhoused Angelenos the support they need, while freeing up police officers to handle the public safety issues that demand their attention,” Garcetti said.
The Los Angeles Police Department receives a call every four minutes regarding someone experiencing homelessness, the mayor explained. The CIRCLE pilot is part of $1 billion the city will spend confronting the homeless crisis this year.
“My office has been working very closely with them since December of 2020, and the profound impact in a positive way they’ve made in the 13th district cannot be overstated enough.” said Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, whose district includes Hollywood.
O’Farrell added that the organization already began hiring people experiencing homelessness in LA and folding them into the program. Urban Alchemy launched in 2018, training the formerly homeless or incarcerated to de-escalate conflict, respond to overdoses and foster connection on the streets, according to its website.
Cheatham has been employed by Urban Alchemy to patrol Venice for about six months, and he’s already assisted three overdoses with the Narcan he keeps in his breast pocket. He was relieved when the woman in the sand finally sat up, dehydrated but coherent.
Cheatham explained how he overcame addiction and incarceration with help from his own family. In fact, Wednesday was his first day off parole.
“Our secret sauce is building interpersonal relationships with the community,” he said.
Urban Alchemy doesn't provide housing, and outreach workers are already encountering the same problems as other teams: LA County has too few mental health beds and too little affordable housing. Most of their time is spent building relationships with the unhoused community that will only pay off with time.
“Me being out here, I’ve seen firsthand the power in just saying hello to someone,” Cheatham said.
While Cheatham was on patrol, an old friend recognized him from his old life. The two hugged in a warm embrace.
“I’m doing something different now, man, trying to make a positive change,” Cheatham said.
The two promised to catch up when Cheatham got off work. He’s now paid to set a positive example of what life can look like on the right path.