LOS ANGELES — It was cleaning day for the homeless on Venice Beach, and Gigi Endres is well versed in packing up her things and moving out of the way.
What You Need To Know
- The Encampment to Home program moved 213 people off Ocean Front Walk, according to nonprofit service provider St. Joseph Center
- More than six months later, 70 are now in permanent housing, 97 are still in motels, hotels and shelters, and 46 have left housing
- The program gave one of Los Angeles County’s top psychiatrists a firsthand view of how the Department of Mental Health can do better
- The city launched a pilot program linking homeless outreach workers and mental health clinicians to 911 in Venice and Hollywood earlier this year
Endres packed her tent, bedding and rescue dog Sparky neatly along a bench Wednesday, as she waited for city crews to finish sanitizing the sidewalk, where she camps, near the sand.
“Pleasant,” she said as a sanitation crew power-washed the sidewalk along Ocean Front Walk. “Pleasant, because we keep it clean.”
Endres and her dog are familiar faces along the boardwalk, but it’s unclear if she was a part of Councilman Mike Bonin’s Encampment to Home program in 2021 that moved many of homeless living on the beach indoors.
Endres said she became homeless four years ago after she developed vertigo and had to sell a boat that was her last residence. Her tale of how she ended up in Venice was marred by signs of mental illness and impossible to fact-check because homeless service providers can’t talk publicly about specific clients.
Endres told Spectrum News 1 she left a free hotel room provided by the FEMA-funded homeless to hotels program called Project Roomkey and moved back into a tent on the beach.
“I’m not a dopey or a druggy,” she said. “We don’t allow meth heads by us.”
The Encampment to Home program moved 213 people off Ocean Front Walk, according to nonprofit service provider St. Joseph Center. More than six months later, 70 are now in permanent housing, 97 are still in motels, hotels and shelters, and 46 have left housing.
The program gave one of Los Angeles County’s top psychiatrists, Dr. Curley Bonds, a firsthand view of how the Department of Mental Health can do better when it comes to keeping people in housing. Bonds is the department’s Chief Medical Officer and also lives in Venice.
“I got to see firsthand what some of the challenges are,” he said. “A lot of these folks, the system has really failed them on multiple occasions. They tried to participate, but a lot of times, because of their illness, they have trouble following rules if you have housing that’s too restrictive with curfews, or you can’t bring in friends. They can feel very isolated.”
Dr. Bonds estimates between 30 and 50% of those living on LA streets have a mental health or substance abuse disorder. He says the only path to solving the crisis is to build housing with health services on site. He noted that opposition in his own neighborhood to homeless housing is part of the problem.
"I live in Venice," he said. "There are people sleeping in the ally sometimes, and I would much rather have a location somewhere in my neighborhood, where they can go and stay safely. But yet my neighbors don’t always agree with that."
In the meantime, the city launched a pilot program linking homeless outreach workers and mental health clinicians to 911 in Venice and Hollywood earlier this year, giving dispatch the option to send an unarmed crisis team instead of police to non-violent calls.
Endres said she’s been assaulted and robbed while living on the boardwalk, where authorities recently arrested an alleged arsonist for torching trashcans overnight. She thinks a federal housing voucher is the only way she’ll get off the street for good and is optimistic she’ll get one this year.