Encampments, Status Quo Is “Not Working”
By Nick Antonicello
The Homeless Committee of the Venice Neighborhood Council (www.venicenc.org) hosted the second of two forums with council candidate Erin Darling, a lifelong Venetian and first-place finisher in the June 7 Primary in the race to succeed retiring Councilmember Mike Bonin.
Calling the homeless crisis and street encampments in Venice the primary focus of his efforts, Darling acknowledged that more than half of the homeless population resides in a neighborhood that accounts for just 5% of the land mass here in Council District 11.
Described as “inhumane and brutal” conditions at the street level, Homeless Committee Chair Frank Murphy and his committee offered the candidate a forum to discuss his thoughts, opinions and solutions on how best to combat a problem that is on the mind of virtually every resident here in Venice, long regarded “Ground Zero” for this social ill that demands a better way moving forward.
Venice will be represented on the LA City Council come January of 2023, the question is will it be a tenant advocate in civil rights attorney Erin Darling or a right-of-center, law and order employment attorney Traci Park, a former Republican who has enjoyed strong support from the apartment owner lobby as well as the collective bargaining groups representing law enforcement, in particular the LAPPL.
Tuesday night offered viewers some clear insight on the differences between the candidates, but at the same time displayed the frustration with the current systems in place and a homeless bureaucracy that seems unable to change or get out of its own way!
The Homeless Committee, which is chaired by Murphy also consists of Brian Ulf, Colette Bailey, Pat Raphael, Liz Wright, Vicki Halliday, Stan Muhammad and Jody Mortimer.
Darling, who described himself as “born and bred” here in Venice was thrilled to be here before this community committee to offer his insights, thoughts and solutions.
Darling discussed his background in dealing with renter’s rights as he has represented those facing evictions and losing their housing in the face of a lack of resources to defend themselves in the justice system.
Calling the race “a battle for the soul of the Westside,” Darling was openly concerned that the wealthiest council district in Los Angeles has not permanently created a pipeline that protects the most vulnerable from the scourge of homelessness. Darling describes Venice as “disproportionately burdened,” describing homelessness as the #1 issue that “defines this race” in CD-11.
Committee member Liz Wright led off the questioning on how collectively we can address the problem of encampments and homelessness.
Darling emphasized that there is a need to strengthen “rental protections, to offer counsel in the face of skyrocketing rents.”
Darling called upon a reliable mental health component, a rapid response safety net that ends the whole notion of homelessness that will rehouse those versus creating an even larger street population. Darling stressed the fact that “five people per day” are currently dying on the streets of Los Angeles.
Darling said it was outrageous that someone had to resign themselves to street living for at least a year before the expectation of help and that a direct pipeline off the streets does not exist. “People deserve a room with a door.”
Darling was eager to point out that “warehousing individuals” is not an answer, but the wrong response and that he supports a permanent funding formula that is sustaining to the tune of $900 million dollars annually.
Committee member Brian Ulf, himself once unhoused was critical of the “change of use” of Project Room Key and believed a spectrum of solutions was important to deliver results.
Darling agreed with Ulf’s assessment and believed a concerted effort and targeted approach should honor these differences.
Darling called for creating transitional housing options and alternatives and that we “all must be good neighbors, and scale up the process.”
“We need to end the fear. Proof of concept is critical to success,” offered Darling who spoke about living next to the drug addict as a child in Venice.
Member Jody Mortimer spoke about the concept of a California Care Court, but Darling responded that such a concept does not currently exist.
Darling was frustrated by the fact that the #1 source for mental health services remains in the jails, and urged counties to “quarterback and assess” state funding to venues for such services beyond the criminal justice system.
Member Colette Bailey was most concerned about accountability and the cost of dealing with homelessness and encampments.
Darling agreed that the system can no longer “issue blank checks” and that the role of government is to hold “bureaucracies accountable.”
Darling said oversight would be critical to watch how dollars are spent, but progress has been incredibly slow and inefficient. Darling expressed concern about service providers and Bailey pressed Darling if he had an “actual plan?”
Darling responded by saying success needs to be tracked, and he supported monitoring the bid structure for such contracts as well as reviewing cost overruns and alike.
Darling conceded to the City of LA, “that things were not being done well enough,” and that the “status quo” was simply not working.
“Government has a role to create affordable housing. Instead, LA has prioritized the market rates. We cannot give up. We need to do it better,” offered the first-time council hopeful.
Stan Muhammad welcomed Darling as a Venice “local” and asked the candidate to address the drug use, prostitution and other crime that surrounds encampments and the violence most fear.
Muhammad emphasized the lack of “Venice folks” in the encampment equation and would like to see a commitment to hiring locals.
Darling responded by promising to hire field deputies that live in Venice and those corresponding neighborhoods to assist in the outreach should he be successful.
“I want local roots. We need homegrown.”
Committee member Vicki Halliday brought up the Venice Median project as simply “not housing enough” and had strong environmental and safety concerns.
The project is currently before the California Coastal Commission.
Darling responded by saying design elements and community concerns need to be heard, but such challenges should not be “the enemy of the good.”
Darling mentioned he once lived on the Venice Canals which is populated by million-dollar-plus homes.
“Why not affordable homes?” questioned Darling.
Committee member Pat Raphael mentioned that only Erin Darling was willing to meet with him and that he tried to meet with his opponent, Traci Park.
It did not happen.
Raphael asked what was the “historical attraction” of the homeless to Venice, and what world metrics can we use to solve the crisis.
Darling emphasized legal guidance and a right to counsel as part of the equation to ensure rapid rehousing.
“We need new funding streams. Darling mentioned that the homeless have been part of a “creative class” that once offered talent and leadership locally. Darling mentioned a sustainable homeless population dating back in Venice to the 1980s and that he believed 80% would accept housing and characterized the “quasi-nomadic” as a very stated minority when assessing the overall street encampment crisis.
Darling was philosophical in his approach stating “nothing about us without us,” as it pertained to a community, consensus discussion and approach that needs to be inclusive, sustaining and ongoing.
“We can’t treat all as criminals. Public safety is important to all to bring housing online.”
Chairman Frank Murphy offered the discussion two options: either being jailed or on the streets and asked rhetorically what the third option was.
Darling stated the third option is to treat it as the emergency that it has become, that mental health workers were essential and that a sustainable safety net become an economic reality.
“We can’t wait another five years to create this third option,” offered Darling.
Committee Member Liz Wright also brought up design issues such as energy costs like air conditioning that could drive up front side dollars.
Darling agreed and believed design flaws and criticisms are fair community concerns.
Brian Ulf emphasized the success of shared housing, and that he was a direct beneficiary of such options for the unhoused.
Ulf believed shared housing was a viable option that should be funded moving forward as part of a reliable housing menu option.
Darling agreed with Ulf, believing solutions should meet people where they are, that congregational housing worked and would support such shared service concepts.
“Let’s not duplicate shortcomings. Let’s promote successful housing experiences.” Darling also emphasized political support he has received far beyond the incumbent Mike Bonin who is retiring.
“Mike Bonin is not in this race and Mike Bonin is not on the ballot. I have the support of the LA Democratic Party, the LA Times, dozens of unions and democratic clubs. Senator Ben Allen, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and Assemblymember Tina McKinnor all represent Venice and have endorsed me as well,” noted the candidate.
Colette Baily believes the median project demands a redesign and Darling agreed which is why it is currently before the California Coastal Commission for review.
“Things could change. Let’s see. This is a community conversation,” noted Darling describing the Coastal Commission as a “powerful entity. I support the legal process.”
Pat Raphael emphasized a commitment to what works and let’s get people off the streets and housed.
Darling responded that we need to “scale what works,” and that the massive California state surplus needs to be rededicated to fund successful models.
Vicki Halliday emphasized reforming bridge housing and offering safe camping as well as ensuring the City of LA keeps its promises.
Darling noted that success is not being achieved and agreed with Halliday on the bridge housing failures.
Darling questioned why bureaucracies were failing and that data must be shared to provide best practices.
“Non-profits are not talking to each other and we need to get people inside with a shared goal.”
Regarding enforcement, Darling supports practices for laws on the books and believed getting people indoors critical to securing a mental health pipeline.
Darling stated he supports RV Parking and other safe parking programs that could be located closer to LAX.
Darling believes his training as an attorney and litigant and negotiator is the kind of resume necessary to build lasting relationships with those he may not agree with.
“We can have diverse opinions, but we cannot dispute the facts.”
“I don’t want to devolve, I want to maintain relationships to get things done, to build a common ground.”
Darling closed by promising to visit local encampments and acknowledged that Venice is “disproportionally burdened” by the current street conditions.
“We all want to be safe. I have a three-year-old son. This for me is day one on the job. This is the issue that defines the race. This is a profound opportunity, to provide leadership because the status quo does not work. Time to marshal the talent and resources. Scaling up solutions is critical.”
The Homeless Committee then took some public comment from those viewing which was a mixed bag of opinions supporting Darling while others were more enthusiastic about his opponent, Traci Park.
Nick Antonicello is a longtime Venetian who is covering the race to succeed Mike Bonin in CD-11. Antonicello has filed more stories on the race in CD-11 than any other media outlet. Have a take on the race? Feel free to e-mail Antonicello at email@example.com