The Teen Project’s Venice PAD feels like Christmas at your favorite Aunt’s house, albeit with a bit more of an edge. Competing voices rise above the crash of a skateboard and rustle of candy wrappers. Someone opens a packet of Quinoa crisps, another is huddled on the floor, exhausted, he sleeps despite the ruckus.
It’s hectic, but there’s a sense of home here, a sense of family. Above all the racket mother bear Lauri Burns, founder of the Teen Project (pictured above), presses a finger to her outside ear as she talks into the phone.
“There’s two, yep, I need to find something…yes, tonight…”
Burns is arranging emergency housing for young pregnant woman Tina who is in her early 20s. A few days before she had been beaten in Santa Monica. She and her boyfriend had come to Venice after hearing that The Venice PAD was a place they could go to get off the streets.
PAD Manager Timothy Pardue is busy next to Burns, typing on a computer as he looks up, welcoming another wave of homeless kids who have rolled in off the Boardwalk.
Serving the homeless youth of Los Angeles, The Venice PAD (Protection and Direction) is a drop-in center on Windward Ave. in the heart of Venice Beach. Their mission is to get kids off the streets, into housing or rehab, and into a job.
“The minute we opened the door we were housing a ton of kids, this has always been our mission, one of the reasons I even came to Venice is because I went to another homeless organization and I saw all the homeless kids who were just staying on the street,” Burns said. “I was like ‘No, this can’t happen!’ If you really care about the kids, like you care about your own kids, you’d want them off the streets. I wouldn’t feed my kid pizza and send her back to the street. Not going to happen. So I’m like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to start treating these kids like they are our own kids. We need to get them all off the streets and we need to find out what’s going on with them and how we can help them.”
At the risk of sounding superficial, Burns is one glamorous woman. At first glance you’d be forgiven for thinking she’d come from a privileged background and was perhaps a wealthy socialite who had chosen to give back to society through helping the homeless…until you hear her story.
Burns spent her childhood in foster care until she turned 18. Then, too old for the system, she moved onto the streets, into drugs and prostitution. She was rescued at 23 after two men had taken her to the woods. Burns doesn’t go into details except to say that the men had intended to kill her.
“Because I was a foster kid, and I was a system kid, I know what it’s like to be disconnected, I know what it’s like to be sitting on the street and having people walk by you like you don’t even exist,” Burns said. “They don’t even look at you anymore, you’re just dirt to them. But they don’t understand the story behind it, what got you out there, why you’re out there alone.
“I’m a project manager by trade. When I got off the streets and I got a grant for school, I became a technical person. I was operating computers and doing technical stuff, eventually I made it as a manager and I got certified as a project manager. Project managers are really focused on time and money and what are we getting done, so I don’t like to sit around and chitchat.”
For Burns and Pardue getting things done means getting kids off the streets as quickly as possible. In the past two months alone they have found homes for close to 40 kids.
After the fatal shooting of homeless man Brendon Glenn, long time Teen Project supporter Tami Pardee from Pardee Properties made a generous offer.
“She showed up here, she bought snacks, balloons, and then she said, ‘Anyone who wants to get of the street today, I’ll pay for their housing for two months.’ All of the kids here who got housed in the past two weeks are because of Tami Pardee,” Burns said.
Pardee’s donation has given many homeless kids in Venice a much needed head start in their new life off the street.
Shane, early 20’s, had been homeless in Venice for a month-and-half before he found out about The PAD through word on the street. He was one of many on the list after putting his hand up to Pardee’s offer of housing.
Shane was not only placed in shared housing in Mid City, but Pardue helped him get a job in Venice where he now earns $10 an hour helping promote a business on the Boardwalk.
“The Teen Project helped me get set up and got me in there it took like two days,” he said. “It was ridiculously fast.”
Pardee had first found out about The Teen Project through Venice Beach-based Photographer Laura Doss. Doss had taken Pardee to see The Teen Project’s free rehab facility, Freehab.
“It was really an amazing facility,” Pardee said. “I have four kids; everyone should be able to have a home and the homeless thing is getting worse and worse. This is so needed in Venice.”
“Guess what? Homeless people don’t want to be homeless. Do you guys want to be homeless?” Burns asks Tina and her boyfriend. Sitting huddled on the couch. They shook their heads.
Tina’s boyfriend says, “I’ve actually met people out from where I’m from in North Carolina that have got rid of what they had just to come and be homeless out here in Venice, just to be out here on the beach. To me, I feel like Venice Beach, if there were to be a homeless capital, this would be it.”
Pardue said they encounter homeless kids from across the country.
“They come from all over America with a dream, they want to be a writer, or a rapper, or whatever and they get to LA and it’s not what they think,” Pardue said. “They head Downtown and it’s really dangerous so then they migrate here to the beach because this is where they know to come for all the resources.”
Burns said it wasn’t hard to realize why homeless kids gravitate toward Venice Beach.
“Here’s what I think is going on in Venice, when we met with Councilman (Mike) Bonin a year ago he sat down and asked ‘Why do you think they’re all coming here?’ and we said ‘Are you kidding?!” Burns said. “You’ve got $12 million in donations that people in Venice are giving to charities that support meals or clothes, things that are resources that don’t actually get them off the street.
“If the people understood that the resources on the street are the magnet here, you come to Venice because there’s food, you can get medical stuff, you can get showers, you can get clothes; you can get everything you need to be homeless here. That’s where the money of Venice is going, the resources, the magnet. If they made the magnate the shelters, if you took all the food, and the resources, and you gave all the money to shelters. Instead of doing a feed out on the beach for 100 people, give the shelter enough money for 100 people and have the people come into the shelter. All the people would be drawn to the shelters; they’re just going to where the resources are. You put the candy on the street they’re going to be out on the street. You put the candy in the shelters, they’re going to go to the shelters.
“You could change Venice, just by educating the people to give the money to PATH, The Venice Community Housing Corporation, and SHARE!, and us, if they gave the money to the housing providers people would be off the street.”
Another young woman arrives, crossing the threshold into the safe haven of The PAD. Her name is Lindsay. Mascara smudged across her cheeks. Tears streak her face. Burns and Pardue have been expecting her. Today she’s off to The Teen Project’s Freehab facility.
With Lindsay’s arrival Burns and Pardue are back to getting the job done, no more time for chit chat.
Final Fad is a song written and performed by Shea Harris. Harris was homeless when Lauri Burns from the Teen Project found her and got her off the streets, putting her through school, and helping her develop her passion for music. This song was a birthday present for Burns from Harris. All the stars of the video are young people who had either been homeless and helped by the Teen Project or they are kids currently on the streets. George Harrison is the male singer, he was unfortunately under house arrest when the video was being shot so Josh Lipscomb stepped in to lend a hand lip-synching Harrison’s lyrics. Shout out to all the performers: Shea Harris, Chris, Ransom Goodlight, Brian, Dewayne, Patrick, Vanessa, and Janet. The video is directed by Jamie Mitchell. Dustin Bath, John Velba, and Nelson DeLa Loza are on cameras.