LOS ANGELES – Long before COVID-19, Travis Binen warned of an epidemic in Venice. It wasn’t a virus he was worried about, but a social plague of homelessness, drug use, and crime. 

We first met Binen a year ago, amid his efforts to block a new shelter by the beach. It would house 150 homeless people as part of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s A Bridge Home initiative to bring a shelter to every council district in Los Angles. 

What You Need To Know

  • Homeless crisis continues to swell amid pandemic

  • New encampment now surrounds shelter opened in February

  • Plans to move homeless into hotel rooms appear to have stalled

  • CDC has recommended leaving encampments be for time-being

At the time, Binen said a Venice shelter would be a disaster. 

“If you build shelters in neighborhoods, it’s just going to turn them into Skid Row,” he said. 

Binen wasn’t the only Westsider who felt that way. At a contentious town hall meeting, furious neighbors questioned the mayor’s plans. 

“What do you intend to do to ensure that we don’t have both encampments and bridge housing and we’re just one big homeless community in Venice?” one woman asked to the eruption of cheers in the audience. 

Mayor Garcetti assured her that the shelter would bring cleaner streets and fewer homeless neighbors, saying that at least one community with a shelter had seen a reduction in homelessness by 50 percent. 

In February, a jubilant Garcetti cut the ribbon on the Sunset Shelter. 

Nearly three months later, a brand new encampment lines the street outside. 

Councilmember Mike Bonin acknowledged that encampments in his district are growing amid the pandemic. (The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority told Spectrum News 1 they don’t have metrics to know if the number of homeless has increased since February). He says the city needs to do more, but their hands are also tied.

A judge recently ordered the city to stop seizing bulk items like couches from those experiencing homelessness. 

“It’s an embarrassment that two months into this pandemic, we’ve only gotten a couple thousand people into hotel rooms, of which there are about 100,000 vacant hotel rooms,” Bonin said of Project Roomkey, a initiative to temporarily move the homeless into empty hotels. “Let’s get doing it, dammit.”

The city has opened up recreation centers for the homeless, but because of social distancing guidelines only a few dozen people can sleep at most locations. 

The Centers for Disease Control recommends encampments be left alone for now. 

“Clearing encampments can cause people to disperse throughout the community and break connections with service providers. This increases the potential for infectious disease spread," said a CDC statement.

Binen, who recently sold one of his two properties near the shelter, sees a string of broken promises and a system with two sets of rules: one that requires the housed to stay home, and one that allows the houseless to live as they please.