Venice residents ‘sleep out’ for the homeless

August 7, 2011
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Homeless advocates watch “The Soloist” before sleeping outside to raise awareness of the plight of the destitute in Venice. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)

Those with homes, as well as a few without, slept outside last night to raise awareness of, what critics say is, a growing movement to criminalize the homeless in Venice.

Advocates say the city is attempting to remove a destitute population from the beachside community through various parking ordinances, such as disallowing overnight parking, “oversized” vehicles or sleeping in one’s automobile.

Civil rights attorney Carol Sobel spoke at the event, which was held outside of the Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center in Venice. In November 2010, Sobel helped file a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Police Department for targeting RV dwellers displaying license plates and placards for the disabled, which exempt vehicle owners from such parking laws.

“The lawsuit challenges what I think is a deliberate plan to harass people, to try and force them out of the community, by giving them citations, arresting them and threatening to take away their vehicles,” said Sobel.

The suit is scheduled to go to trial this November.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “Venice property owners have for years prodded the city to enforce the law against sleeping overnight in vehicles. They complain that occupants use alleys for bathrooms, party late into the night and dump waste into storm drains.” The homeless complain of the lack of public restrooms that stay open.

In late 2010, the LAPD stationed an extra 21 officers in the Venice area to “combat what Pacific Division Capt. Jon Peters described as ‘significant increases’ in crime,” according to the Times.

Historically, Venice has been more tolerant of their homeless population than other neighborhoods, but in the past several years, attitudes seem to be shifting. The change appears to coincide with the desire of vested interests to gentrify the neighborhood and mirrors some of the policies and complaints occurring in Skid Row.

“It is part a continuing pattern of the city of paying the police to harass people rather than give them homes,” said Sobel, who figures Hollywood will be next on the city’s homeless target list.

Last month, the National Coalition for the Homeless, or NCH, ranked Venice’s ordinance that banned sleeping in RVs as being one of the “10 most ridiculous anti-homeless laws” in the nation.

“The ordinance was enacted due to reports of some RV owners dumping their sewage in public, but this ban punishes Venice’s homeless who have to choose between living either in their RV or on the streets,” said the NCH on its website. “This homeless population is assuredly much larger than a couple of bad apples who do not care where their waste ends up.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl has pushed to address the homeless issue, calling for enforcement, such as banning the parking of “oversized” vehicles, and an assistance program called “vehicles-to-homes.”

“I refuse to accept that residents and the homeless must be pitted against one another,” said Rosendahl at a heated September 2010 town hall meeting, according to KPCC. “We can help people who need help, and we can enforce laws protecting quality of life in our neighborhood.”

However, Rosendahl’s plan has become more enforcement than assistance, say critics.

“All of a sudden people were being towed for living in their vehicle and people were being arrested. I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Peggy Lee Kennedy, a member of the the Justice Committee and Media Group. “Bill Rosendahl could have gotten people places to stay a long time ago.”

Aside from lawyers, Rosendahl’s second largest campaign contributors comes from the real estate industry, according to MapLight.org, a nonpartisan research organization. Critics say Rosendahl has been pushing forward the agenda of this vested interest to gentrify the neighborhood.

However, that does not seem to exempt Rosendahl from criticism from the Venice Stakeholders Association. When Rosendahl proposed loosening restrictions on overnight parking, the neighborhood group opposed it and said it “will potentially impact the quality of life of residents and businesses,” according to its website.

“The whole area is a business interest in development because of the value of the property,” said Kennedy.

On the lawn of the Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center, some advocates sat or stretched out in sleeping bags while listening to speeches, music, poetry and watching the film “The Soloist,” which was projected onto the Center’s building, before turning in.

Steve Clare, the executive director for the Venice Community Housing Corporation, was a lead organizer for yesterday’s “sleep out.” He has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, and said that with the influx of wealthier residents, there is pressure to change.

“In the last few years, the spotlight has been focused on homelessness, primarily in a negative way, by, what I feel, a minority in the community who speak very loudly, as if they were speaking for everyone here,” said Clare. “So, some of us got together and wanted to have this event to let the politicians know that there are other voices in our community that support homeless people.”

Clare said that the homeless are part of the neighborhood and deserve support, as opposed to aggressive law enforcement, as is the case in Skid Row with the 2006 Safer Cities Initiative, which led to the mass arrests and incarcerations of homeless people.

He said Bureau of Sanitation personnel began driving around in cars, looking under the chassis of RVs. If there was any effluent dripping from them, they called the police, who then ticketed and towed the vehicles.

“Many homeless people had their vehicles impounded and were never able to get them out,” said Clare. “They lost the only shelter they had.”

Clare said the number of RV dwellers in Venice is less than what it once was. However, because they were simply pushed out to neighboring communities, and not provided with permanent shelter, he said, it was no solution.

“The city really has to come to grips with this issue,” he said. “Housing was never one of the mayor’s priorities, and it still isn’t a priority in this city, but this homeless crisis is getting worse. And it is going to get worse with the economy continuing to deteriorate.”

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One Response to Venice residents ‘sleep out’ for the homeless

  1. Peggy Lee Kennedy on August 7, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Good article. I look forward to seeing more by you. Detailed stories with background are hard to find these days.

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