Despite a 73% Spike in Homelessness Year Over Year in Cd-11, Team Park Remains Cautiously Optimistic Moving Forward!
By Nick Antonicello
VENICE – About 75 Venetians attended the reorganization of the Homelessness Committee of the Venice Neighborhood Council (www.venicenc.org) to take part in a question and answer session with members of the staff of Councilwoman Tracy Park (CD-11) Monday evening at the Venice Public Library specifically on the issue of encampments and RV’s both here in the neighborhood as well as the rest of LA.
The meeting was a “listening session” of sorts as well as an opportunity to ask Park staffers specific questions on the volatile issue of homelessness and the Councilwoman’s take on the direction of things since assuming office some 10 months ago.
The new committee chairperson is Alley Bean, the longtime Venice Canals resident and actress, who was appointed by VNC President Brian Averill who was also in attendance along with board members Clark Brown, CJ Cole, Erica Moore, Deborah Keaton and Steve Bradbury.
Also in attendance was Venice Stakeholder’s Association (VSA) President Mark Ryavec, a longtime activist who has been at odds with Park’s approach to confronting homelessness, as well as her “flip-flop” endorsing Venice Bridge Housing she opposed in her successful 2022 council campaign fueled by vast opposition to that facility in what many describe as turning that neighborhood into a “containment zone” for encampments while other communities such as Westchester and Pacific Palisades get the proverbial pass in shouldering this citywide scourge.
Park is an attorney by profession and a Venice resident.
The Homeless Committee is co-chaired by Lisa Redmond and other members include Connie Brooks, Judy Goldman, Christina Tullock, Cari Bjelajac and Alfie Jones.
Committee Chair Bean welcomed those in attendance by introducing the entire committee membership, describing them as “a diverse board of conflicting positions,” and that was intentional and by design to ensure all voices in the neighborhood had a place at the table. Bean’s goal was to have the body be far more active and engaged then past committees, and proceeded to introduce key members of the Councilwoman Tracy Park’s staff in Gabriela Medina, the district director and Juan Fregoso, who heads up the CD-11 homeless initiatives.
It was also announced that Ashley Lozada, the current Venice Deputy was moving on to working under Fregoso on the issue of homelessness and encampments while Sean Silva would be the new deputy for Dogtown.
Under public comment on non-agenda items, one resident praised the efforts of Councilwoman Park thus far while another believed “things were getting worse,” and in a reference to LA Mayor Karen Bass that she doesn’t “listen” to the public.
Another observation that was made was that “roots in the neighborhood are just as important as boots on the ground,” and that affordable housing was just as critical as supportive.
Pat Raphael, an immediate past committee member, noted that many of the motions that were approved by that body “did not go anywhere.”
Bean urged those in attendance to ask questions and be engaged, but to “keep things kind.”
District Director Medina, who has been a city council staffer for over a decade said CD-11 was committed to adding services while acknowledging the 73% overall increase in homeless was in CD-11, the largest spike in all of Los Angeles.
Specific numbers for Venice are currently unavailable.
Juan Fregoso, a former deputy to past council member Mitch O’Farrell and now Park’s homeless czar played a key role in the evacuation and cleanup of the Echo Park encampments. Fregoso offered that his primary responsibility is to assess resources to the district on the issue of homelessness.
The City of Los Angeles will spend some $1.3 billion dollars in its current operating budget to fund the city’s ongoing battle with street living.
Fregoso spoke of a new “Care Plus” team on the westside and expected that program to be up and running in 2024.
And while the council office’s team of personnel is increasing, the results thus far have been less than optimistic.
It was reported that LAHSA, or the Los Angeles Housing Services Authority appropriates funding, program design, outcomes assessment, and technical assistance to more than 100 nonprofit partner agencies that assist people experiencing homelessness to achieve independence and stability in permanent housing. It was reported that 275 individuals were brought indoors here in Venice and close to 500 overall since Park took office last December.
And while these are self-reported figures that have not been verified, it was also reported that nine individuals had died from drug overdoses at Venice Beach, particularly found in public restrooms at the boardwalk.
The overall goal of Park continues to be the same and that is identifying interim sites that bring the homeless indoors.
It was also reported that efforts have been made to partner with LA County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath, now a member of LAHSA’s executive committee along with Mayor Karen Bass. Apparently Horvath has toured the beach conditions at Venice and a mutual partnership with Park is now in place.
Medina reported that 8 to 9 different government agencies are now merging best practices to cleanup conditions at the boardwalk.
Fregoso also announced that 161 individuals had been housed through the city’s emergency edict of the Inside Safe initiative in coordination with the LA City Council and District-11.
At this juncture a homeless individual disrupted the question and answer session at which members of Park’s staff met with him outside to hear his questions and concerns.
One Venice resident noted that the neighborhood specific numbers were absent in the latest LAHSA Homeless Count and Fregoso said they were working to “get local numbers back” into the data equation (I also asked how a specific plan of action can be strategized if the hard numbers are not available, as well as placing stock in a bureaucracy like LAHSA to do anything that reduces homelessness after three decades of failure).
The status of Venice Bridge Housing was briefly touched upon as some believe the facility to be less than full while Team Park assured those in attendance that the Main Street locale was at capacity.
A submitted question by a resident also touched upon the hard data and It was suggested greater, more accurate reporting with a degree of frequency be made available to the Homelessness Committee as well as the public-at-large.
Fregoso also commented that “data is always hard to get loose from LAHSA.”
One fundamental question asked was how do you get people off the street?
Which for the most part was not addressed.
At this juncture several attendees began to leave as there was a hard time adjournment of 7:45PM by library officials.
Another question posed was the status of RV’s which have been sprouting around Venice like daisies, especially on key corridors such as Washington, Lincoln, Venice and Rose.
It was made clear that vehicle dwelling is difficult to enforce and that city officials needed volunteer compliance, as well as the space and proper facilities to house the hundreds here in Venice and the thousands all over CD-11.
Medina said a “lack of speed” was evident in addressing the RV challenge and that procedures and standards need to be set in place.
“We have hurdles to overcome.”
But the underlining question that was never really answered was the number of people living on the streets and when will residents see or realize an actual net decrease in homeless encampments?
The overall question of dollars to build supportive homeless housing continues to be a cost that is out-of-reach, and thus plagues any real progress.
Issues like prevailing wages in a union-friendly environment like LA has seen costs sky rocket 10-15% annually, thus slowing the construction process while becoming more expensive each and every day.
Moreover, Los Angeles has roughly 500 shelters scattered about the city housing roughly 16,000 individuals or some 32 individuals per shelter.
But the current crisis demands some 1,500 shelters to house LA’s homeless population of some 40,000 people!
When and how will LA construct the thousand or so additional shelters required to bring all individuals indoors was unclear and not discussed.
The issue of mental illness and drug and alcoholism was also discussed and all acknowledged this specific critical care was not being addressed in a serious fashion.
Medina also offered that individuals cannot be forced into care.
“Los Angeles does not have a mental health department.”
And Medina noted; “it’s not unlawful to be homeless.”
In the end, Media said “we need to build everywhere,” and that housing is problematic without services.
Committee member Lisa Redmond under board questioning and discussion described the 500 or so apparently housed as “interim” in nature, and described it as “warehousing the homeless.”
Medina closed by stating service providers will be held accountable, and it was acknowledged that there is no true database or directory of these individuals currently on the streets as LA continues to take baby steps in a crisis completely out-of-control.
Committee Chair Alley Bean was optimistic calling the gathering a “good beginning.”
The meeting adjourned promptly at 7:45 PM.
Sean Silva, the new Venice Deputy can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Nick Antonicello is a thirty-year resident of Venice who covers the homeless crisis locally. Have an encampment or RV issue on your block or neighborhood? Contact Antonicello online at email@example.com