BY JAMIE PAIGE – WESTSIDE CURRENT EDITOR
A draft budget of the $5 million in expenditures for the Venice Boardwalk Encampment to Home program conducted in 2021 shows that almost half of the money went to Saint Joseph’s Center (SJC) staffing, operations, and “indirect” costs—despite a commitment from Councilmember Mike Bonin and SJC to use the “bulk of the budget for housing resources” and a willingness from the Los Angeles County Homeless Outreach Services Team (HOST) to supply staffing resources.
Last June, the Los Angeles City Council allocated $5 million from the city budget to pay for interim housing for more than 200 people who lived in encampments along Ocean Front Walk.
At an LA City Council Budget and Finance Committee meeting in June, SJC’s CEO Va Lecia Adams Kellum told members that the $5 million “budget would—in large- be used for housing resources, client-aid funds, food and meals, and motel costs.”
However, a budget recently sent to Westside Current shows that almost half of the money went elsewhere – $1,375,166 to Personnel Costs, $154,739 to Operating Costs, and $614,035 to unspecified Indirect Costs.
Fifteen full-time staff members were hired for the Encampment to Home program by Saint Joseph’s at a cost of almost $1.4 million. According to the budget, one full-time supervisor was hired for $70,000, 10 full-time case-management staff were hired at $52,000 each and an additional twelve full-time resident monitors were hired for $650,000 (averaging $54,000 each). Benefits for all the staff added around $200,000.
“That amount of money is equivalent to what the board of supervisors pays for the HOST deputies for the year,” stated Lt. Geoffrey Deedrick, who heads the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s HOST team that offered help at the Boardwalk last summer. It is unclear what time period is covered for the SJC hires. What is clear is that using the HOST team for outreach would have saved at least part of the cost of additional personnel and allowed more funds to go towards housing the homeless.
Also included in the draft budget are operating costs for things like program supplies, cell-phone service, and staff mileage and parking, totaling $153,749. Another $19,050 was spent on one-time purchases such as for filing cabinets and laptops. “We have all those supplies already and wouldn’t have needed more,” said Deedrick.
An additional $614,035 is listed as “agency indirect money” with no breakdown of how the money was spent.
At What Cost?
The Westside Current started asking for a budget breakdown last June when we first learned about the $5 million price tag. The city council promised transparency—and before approving a motion to allocate the money for the program, the Budget and Finance Committee amended the motion to include a required detailed assessment of program costs, including a detailed budget after 45 days. However, it took multiple requests over the course of seven months for the Current to obtain what is identified as a “DRAFT BUDGET.”
In justifying the cost of the program, Bonin referenced an earlier Encampment to Home program at Penmar Park. Suggesting it as a model for the Boardwalk operation, he called Penmar “very successful” but said more resources would be needed to duplicate the plan on the boardwalk.
Reporting done by the Current in March of 2021 about the Penmar program’s outcomes found that just a few months after putting people from the Penmar encampments into two Mar Vista hotels there was a drastic uptick in crime in the hotels’ neighborhood and the program had to shut down.
At the June 2021 Budget & Finance Meeting, SJC’s Kellum explained that the Boardwalk Encampment to Home project would be different. “This budget is a lesson learned from Penmar,” she stated. “We didn’t expect the [Mar Vista] “community to balk because of noise and people walking in the streets. We had to take outreach teams out of the field have them work in motels. The [Boardwalk] budget will provide for services that keep people in housing. That’s where we found we were sorely lacking.”
The DRAFT BUDGET shows that $649,466 of the listed Personnel Costs went to resident monitors. Nevertheless, Venice walk-street residents living near the Cadillac Hotel, where a number of formerly homeless Boardwalk residents were housed, have documented a dramatic spike in crimes – including fires, assaults, break-ins and open drug sales and use, many of the same issues that residents near the Mar Vista hotel had seen and experienced.
While Bonin was asking for the $5 million in 2021, the HOST team along with community volunteers had already been working to connect Boardwalk homeless residents with services and housing. About 20 LASD deputies and mental health workers were assigned to help at the Boardwalk. Their intention was to continue providing this help to bolster SJC’s Boardwalk outreach teams during Encampment to Home.
At an event jointly held by HOST and celebrity hairstylist Jason Schneidman on June 18, 2021, four homeless Boardwalk people were housed and another four were connected to a reunification program.
Schneidman, who has spoken freely to the media about his past battles with addiction and a brief period of homelessness, started a nonprofit organization called THEMENSGROOMER. That day, Schneidman and seven of his stylists gave about 40 haircuts to people experiencing homelessness on the Boardwalk.
“Collaborations like these show the impact that we can have, one person at a time,” said Deedrick. “The HOST mission is humanitarian.”
However, as Bonin’s Encampment to Home program got underway, the Councilmember refused assistance from the HOST team, instead tweeting that, “We’re launching a major effort to confront the homelessness crisis at Venice Beach, address the safety needs of the housed and the unhoused, and fully reopen the park and beach for general public use. How? We’re offering housing, not handcuffs.”
Deedrick said the mission of his trained outreach team is not “handcuffs” but building relationships and trust with a population that has experienced trauma, adding that his team made zero arrests on the Boardwalk because that’s not their objective.
“The unhoused are used to adverse connections, and we are looking to change that,” Deedrick explained at the time. “If they say ‘I don’t want to talk,’ we’ll walk away and let them know we’re on their time. We have human misery and deterioration. We are coming to them from a place of grace. We want them to know they have needs and [we can]] address them to the best of our ability.” He added that his trained team was also providing safety and security on the Boardwalk.
Centennial Park Encampment to Home?
Saint Joseph’s Center is reported to be working with Bonin and the Mayor’s Office to help clear the Centennial Park Homeless Encampment. The Crisis and Incident Response through Community-Led Engagement, or CIRCLE team is also providing outreach at the park. That program just received an additional $1.5 million from the federal government—as well as a bump in the 2022 fiscal year city budget that adds up to an additional $5 million. The program is currently said to be in a Beta stage and is only operating in Venice and Hollywood.
No further details about operations at Centennial Park are currently available except that it will be an Encampment to Home program much like the previous ones at Penmar Park, Venice Boardwalk Park, and Westchester Park.
Bonin’s critics maintain that they see a pattern in CD11. He allows an encampment to continue getting larger and larger – despite community pleas for people in the encampments to get help when it first starts growing – then claims credit for clearing the problem and providing housing.
In an email sent by John Baginski, a former member of the Venice Neighborhood Council Safety Committee, Baginski highlights that Bonin has had four sizable encampments in his district.
“Bonin creates a crisis and then pretends to solve the crisis and garners a bunch of press [while doing it],” stated Baginski “But when the press leave, [Bonin] runs away with no follow up and leaves the area with the scars, trash, inflated crime and disruption he created.”
Baginski also points out that Bonin ignores that most of the homeless do not go to or stay in the housing and that “his policies attracted many of the people to his localized crisis in the first place.”
Westside Current talked with unhoused folks at Centennial Park and been told by many that they have already been in and out of numerous encampments, hotel rooms, and shelters around the City during the past few years.
We reached out to Saint Joseph’s multiple times for comments on this story and extended our deadline for more than two weeks to give them additional time for a response. We did not receive one.
(Editor’s note: This important story is shared in cooperation with the Westside Current. CTN applauds editor Jamie Paige for uncovering that the money targeted for the homeless is actually going to the nonprofits who are slated to help the homeless.)