The encampments surrounding City Bridge Housing in Venice stretch from the board walk to beyond Gold’s Gym into residential areas.
Circling the News was unclear on what Bridge Housing was supposed to accomplish, so I contacted two residents, who ushered me around Venice on June 1 and explained the concept, the promise and the reality.
The idea is to provide a temporary place that the homeless can use to get off the streets. It is a site for the unhoused to receive help and services in order to gain permanent housing.
When Councilman Mike Bonin first proposed using the L.A. Metro bus site at Main and Pacific in Venice, he said (Click here.):
- It will be temporary. The L.A. Metro bus site will last a maximum of three years (community outreach began in 2018).
- It will be designed to fit into Venice.
- Bridge residents will be good neighbors: the temporary housing facility will be required to abide by rules that protect neighbors from nuisance. There will be on-site security and management.
- The housing comes with a commitment to clean up nearby areas. (The Bridge Home initiative dedicates money in the city budget for additional sanitation resources.
- Other neighborhoods in L.A. will also have bridge housing.
Bonin also promised neighbors that when Bridge housing opened, “City Sanitation teams will work to restore spaces that were previously encampment sites into safe, clean public passageways.”
Escorted by the residents, I was steered clear of certain areas because the encampments on the sidewalks have become so dangerous. Additionally, one has to walk in the street in some portions of Venice because sidewalks are inaccessible.
I was told not to walk down 3rd Street between Rose and Sunset because of the drug use, the weapons and the bicycle “chop shops.” Tents were everywhere, as was trash and waste. Recently, Gold’s Gym had to put up a fence around its parking lot at Main and Sunset to allow members to park and to keep the encampments out: they are on the sidewalks surrounding the fence – less than a block from the Bridge Housing.
I learned that in each Bridge Housing area, a street sign is posted that it is a “Special Enforcement and Cleaning Zone” and that no tents are to be erected between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. and that those living in the tents would be the first to be offered Bridge Housing.
Residents explained that the shelter is “dry,” which means drugs, alcohol and weapons need to be checked at the door and that there is a curfew for residents. The trade-off is a bed (in a private cubicle), three meals a day and assistance with getting off the street.
The Venice Bridge can hold 100 adults and 54 youth, but apparently has not yet been filled. P.A.T.H. (People Assisting the Homeless) runs the adult facility.
SPY (Safe Place for Youth) was awarded a $5 million contract to run the youth side, providing beds for 36 men and 18 women, ages 18 to 24. The current capacity due to Covid is 48 and a SPY executive assistant told CTN in a June 8 email that the facility is full.
SPY received its nonprofit status in 2020, the same year the facility opened. The executive director, Allison Hurst, submitted her resignation in April and is moving back to England.
In the beginning, residents said there was a dedicated LAPD car that patrolled the area, but when the police budget was cut last July, the car disappeared.
Residents are concerned for their safety. The elderly are afraid to leave their homes—and the yard by the senior center by the Westminster Dog Park has been taken over by transients and tents.
“Seniors can’t use the center,” a resident said. “They’re scared.”
As we walked across the street, there was a young couple in front of their tent by the senior center. The man was cutting his toenails and his partner was screaming that if we gave her money, they might move.
Other transients who lived there had pit bulls and CTN was told that they are allowed to run free in the dog park and are vicious, so that residents worry about using the dog park.
The residents showed me where a transient had started a fire in Venice that killed pediatrician Courtney Gillenwater’s dog, Togo.
“A guy threatened to kill me,” one resident said. “He was within six inches of my face.” He then smashed windows on a half a dozen cars. When LAPD arrived, he ran back into Bridge Housing. “He was arrested and got 180 days in prison, but they let him out after four days because of Covid 19.”
The residents said that some homeless now have a double domicile: They take Bridge Housing at night, but during the day, they are back in their tents along the sidewalk.
“Many are dealing drugs or engaged in other criminal activity,” one resident said. “But the police need to knock and a search order to look in the tent, because it is considered a domicile.”
Walking by a block of parked RVs, CTN asked where the sewage is dumped. The resident pointed to the storm drain that goes into the ocean. It smelled along the street.
A transient living in his car was in a public parking space. “The homeless don’t have to pay and RV’s never have to move,” the resident said.
Many businesses, and residents, have left and there are “For Rent Signs” everywhere.
Along Ocean Walk, according to residents, the area is broken into “different tribes” run by drug gangs.
“There are 12-year-olds who are delivering the drugs,” the resident said.
Many of the people who live in the encampments have drug problems and what residents have learned is, “When they’re on meth, they’re unstoppable.”
The new name residents given for the section of Venice north of Rose is “Methlehem.”
Residents who continued to live in this area of Venice have had to hire private security companies to keep their homes safe.
“There is no law and order, and no one will help us,” one resident said.
(Editor’s note: Councilman Joe Buscaino held a press conference on June 7 in Venice. Alaia Smith, 19, of Washington, pulled a knife and cut Police Captain Steven Embrich’s hand. She was arrested and then released the next day. Her hearing is set for October 4. Visit: Click here.)
Circling the News wanted to know, If Bridge Housing only exasperates the homeless problem, why would any neighborhood welcome it as a solution?
Venice resident Heidi Roberts, founder of Haaven, which houses homeless, has toured the City’s Bridge Housing in other locations.
“With few exceptions, the 20+ other Bridge Home shelters are pretty darned clean,” she told CTN. “I’ve been to many of them and there are no encampments surrounding them, no open drug dealing and usage, no chop shops, and no trash floating in the gutters. ONLY in Venice.”
Venice Current Editor Jaimie Paige ran a December 2020 Story (“Venice Resident Demonstrates Bonin’s Broken Bridge Home Promises in Photo Series”) Click here.
CTN visited a Bridge Housing site in San Pedro. There was no trash by the site, no encampments and the posted signs about cleaning and enforcement were being followed.
The housing includes a private sleeping cubicle, community bathrooms, showers and a laundry room. There are three meals a day given in the living/dining area and there was a television. Residents are allowed to bring their pets with them.
CTN was told that there are enforced curfews in San Pedro, and the encampments in other areas of San Pedro had decreased as more and more people were being brought off the streets—including those in their vehicles. If someone has a car, staff makes sure it is registered and parked at the site, which allows someone to go to a job and come back—until they can get “on their feet” again.
CTN was told by a staff member that neighbors initially opposed Bridge Housing in San Pedro, that they had posted signs in their back yards opposing it, but now since people have been taken off the sidewalks and it appears to be working, opposition has waned.
Roberts concluded after touring L.A. City’s Bridge Housing sites, “I have visited almost all of the Bridge Home shelters across Los Angeles and remain convinced that the shelter model can work and is necessary to help alleviate the massive humanitarian crisis that’s festering on the streets of Venice and LA. The power to deliver on the original promises made — safe shelter AND safe streets — lies with our government representatives. They have the money, and they have the support of the people. They simply need the will.”