(Editor’s note: this January 17 article – “Bonin Breaches Lawsuit Settlement. Designates Shelter Across from Venice Elementary School” – is reprinted with permission from Westside Current.)
It’s a fight that’s all too familiar on the Westside. Concerned parents and neighbors say they are worried about the welfare of their kids after learning that another shelter is slated to go up across the street from an elementary school—this one in Venice.
Community members say they recently learned of plans to put a “decompression” center and possibly a winter shelter at the former Venice Senior Center, located at Westminster Park.
The Westminster Senior Center is surrounded by homes and is adjacent to Westminster Elementary School and three preschools that are home to more than 400 children. It’s also adjacent to an early education center that serves low-income families and the popular Westminster Dog Park – a gathering place for dog owners and neighborhoods – which is very busy every day of the year.
The decompression center is opening as part of the CIRCLE Team initiative launched by Mayor Eric Garcetti in partnership with Councilmember Mike Bonin.
Residents were told that the CIRCLE team is a pilot program that had been activated to help alleviate an overburdened police department. According to a press release sent by the mayor’s office, the team will intervene in nonviolent 911 calls for things like noise complaints and trespassing and oversee the decompression center.
Multiple requests by the Westside Current and community members to learn more about the program have gone unanswered. However, last week, Westminster Elementary School parents and neighbors say they learned that the decompression center is slated to open at the Senior Center, 150 feet from the school, and could also act as the Westside’s only winter shelter.
On Sunday, parents held an emergency meeting about the shelter. One parent stated: “No one wants to lose compassion for the homeless. But there are some things that come with the homeless that shouldn’t be exposed to our children. That seems to be lost on Councilmember Mike Bonin.”
According to a 2021 shelter count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), of the 327 people in Venice shelters, 111 were chronically homeless—meaning people who have experienced homelessness for at least a year or repeatedly while struggling with a disabling condition such as a serious mental illness, substance abuse disorder, or physical disability. And of those 111, about 78 were identified as having a severe mental illness.
Breach of Contract:
On October 5, 2016, Venice Kids Count, an organization made up of neighbors and parents— including Heidi Roberts, cofounder of Haaven, a private shared-housing organization that has provided housing for more than 180 homeless people—filed suit against the City to prevent Bonin’s plan to use the Senior Center for a homeless property storage facility and center for the homeless to do things like pick up mail and showers.
At the time, Venice Kids Count and community members said that the facility should not be located across from a school, nor should it be in a residential zone. “It’s unconscionable that anyone would think it’s a good idea to bring homeless services or a shelter next door to an elementary school and a preschool. Why on earth would anyone expose kids to even more trauma than they’re already experiencing during these crazy times? It’s an unusually cruel plan made by a politician who’s clearly not looking out for his constituents,” said Roberts.
Court documents show that the City failed to conduct a proper environmental review or consult the California Coastal Commission about the changes at the center. The Venice Kids Count website stated: “Homelessness is a tragedy. Importing homelessness next to 400+ kids only compounds the tragedy.”
The City eventually settled the lawsuit with the organization. As part of the settlement, the City must notify the organization of plans to operate a homeless shelter at the center at least 60 days prior to doing so.
On Sunday, Venice Kids Count reported they had not been notified of the shelter plans.
Katrina Glusac, who was also a plaintiff on behalf of Venice Kids Count added “Our kids are under so much stress already with COVID, crime and homelessness all around Venice. School should be a place where they feel safe. We should be doing everything we can to protect them.”
Protecting ‘Sensitive Areas’
Neighbors at Sunday’s meeting noted that Bonin is the only councilmember not protecting children in his district. Last year, the LA City Council passed an anti-camping ordinance prohibiting encampments within 500 feet of “sensitive” facilities, including schools, daycare facilities, parks and libraries.
The ordinance was passed last summer by members of the Council because of the urgent need for action against the city’s homeless crisis. To date, Bonin and Councilwoman Nithya Raman are the only councilmembers to not identify “sensitive areas” within their districts so that the new law could be enforced. The two have also voted against other councilmembers’ attempts to enact the ordinance in their districts.
Last Wednesday, Bonin expressed his opposition on Twitter after casting another dissenting vote to enact the new law saying: “Many people—including my political opponents—are demanding I support and implement laws that criminalize sitting and lying down in ever-larger portions of our city. But these laws take us backward, make us less safe, and make homelessness worse. Unhoused people are disproportionately the `victims’ of crime—and no official has the power (or desire) to prevent police from investigating criminal acts. But statutes like 41.18 criminalize not so much an act as the very `state’ of being unhoused.”
He compared the ordinance to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic” and said that housing and services, not enforcement, will make Los Angeles safer.
More of the Same
Last month, Westchester residents pushed back after learning that Bonin had designated a homeless shelter to be built across the street from Visitation School. Parents and community members say they were never notified of the project and only learned about it through open records request while trying to get information about another shelter Bonin proposed to go up at Westchester Park.
Community activists Lucy Han and Debra Huston delivered more than 500 letters signed by community members to Representative Maxine Waters’ office in opposition to the project.
The same day, the two received a call from Waters’ office letting them know that the congresswoman wasn’t aware the shelter was so close to a school. Last week Bonin’s office confirmed that a shelter will not be built at that location citing “community opposition”.
Venice Kids Count is organizing efforts to raise similar awareness about the proposed shelter and to do what they can to stop the effort from moving forward, including plans to send a cease-and-desist letter from their attorney to the City in the near future.
“We’ve been trying to work with the City, but they just keep working against us,” said Glusac.
The Westside Current reached out to Bonin’s office and the Mayor’s office for comment and have not heard back.
Circling the News reached out to LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin and to Allison Holdorff, who was Melvoin’s chief advisor for comment.
Holdorff, who is now running for CD 11, responded “We need to listen to the concerns of parents at Westminster ES and EEC. The proximity of the shelter, just hundreds of feet, from a school is inappropriate. Westminster ES and EEC have already been negatively impacted by encampments and RVs, including 47 used needles found adjacent to the campus.
“Kids are subjected to seeing fights, people shooting up drugs, and other indecent acts that are bad for their social and emotional well-being. Students, parents, and school officials don’t need this additional burden to deal with. As it is, the school district has had to pay for privacy fencing and training their staff because the City is not taking care of this situation,” Holdorff said.