Thousands of people are resisting efforts by local officials to house the homeless in temporary cabins and tents near Los Angeles beaches and parks amid an outcry over soaring crime rates related to some encampments.
Councilman Mike Bonin, who has come under fire from residents in the city’s Venice neighborhood and other communities over the expansion of tent cities, submitted a motion in March to identify potential sites and funding for moving the homeless to “safe camping” areas or into “tiny homes” in parks, property at the Los Angeles International Airport and Los Angeles County-owned parking lots.
On Thursday, the City Council Homelessness & Poverty Committee approved a motion to conduct a feasibility study for the projects. Proposed locations to temporarily house the homeless include parking lots at Dockweiler Beach, Will Rogers State Beach and Fisherman’s Village in Marina del Rey.
During the committee meeting, many residents said housing the homeless in beach parking lots would deprive beachgoers of beach access because of overcrowding and environmental, sanitation and safety hazards. Some also said the plan would reduce the property values of nearby homes.
In an email sent to constituents on Wednesday, Bonin defended the proposal after nearly 20,000 people signed a petition opposing it.
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“Some are claiming I have proposed that the city allow homeless encampments at our parks and beaches. That rumor is not true,” he said. “On the contrary, what I have proposed is designed to reduce encampments, so that our public spaces can return to full public use.
“These are not encampments. They are an emergency response—an alternative—to encampments, and they are temporary solutions meant to get people off the streets and into homes,” he added.
The petition said the plan would simply move the homeless from one area into another without addressing the underlying issues – mental illness and income inequality – that have exacerbated the crisis.
“These ‘homeless shelters’ might sound reasonable from the watered-down verbiage of its marketing plan …but they are not being presented for what they actually turn out to be,” the petition states. “In areas like Brentwood and Venice, where the city has built similar concepts and promised the surrounding residents they would ‘support the homeless,’ we are watching the failures unfold.”
Homelessness in Los Angeles County has been on the rise in recent years. More than 66,000 people were identified as homeless by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority during its annual count in January 2020. Of that figure, 41,000 live within the city of Los Angeles.
A count scheduled to take place this year was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Encampments have grown in several areas around the city, including downtown’s Skid Row, where rows of tent encampments, cardboard shelters and RVs take over multiple city blocks, and Venice, most notably along its famous boardwalk.
Crime statistics provided by the Los Angeles Police Department to the Venice Neighborhood Council, which shared them with Fox News last week, show violent crime robberies in the neighborhood are up 177% and a 162% increase in cases of assault with a deadly weapon involving a homeless person.
On April 28, a man was shot on the Venice boardwalk and survived. That same month, a family dog was killed in a house fire many believed was started by a homeless person. On May 3, a tent on the boardwalk became engulfed in flames after someone threw a device inside. In January, a building was destroyed in a fire that started at an encampment and spread.
On social media, videos showing fights, harassment, arson and other crimes are commonly shared.
During Thursday’s committee meeting, Jessica Rogers, president of the Pacific Palisades Residents Association, said Bonin’s plan would be a “detriment to public assets.”
“These emergency homeless shelters are a horrific problem in terms of safety for everyone involved,” she told the committee.
Brentwood Community Council Chair Michelle Bisnoff said her group opposes the feasibility study plan, saying it doesn’t address methamphetamine overdoses or substance abuse, citing it as the leading cause of death among the homeless.
“We oppose the use of public parks and beaches for any purpose other than the recreation for all the citizens of the city of Los Angeles,” she said. “We again recognize our neighbors in Venice and the issues that they have had with regard to safety, cleanliness, crime, including an extraordinary level of arson.”
One woman who did not identify herself said she supported the motion while noting the homeless problem is a result of a shortage of affordable housing in the region.
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“I want to support permanent housing on the westside. That’s really what we need more than shelters,” she said.
A federal judge last month ordered city and county leaders to find shelter for all homeless residents living in Skid Row within 180 days and audit any spending related to the crisis.
“All of the rhetoric, promises, plans, and budgeting cannot obscure the shameful reality of this crisis — that year after year, there are more homeless Angelenos, and year after year, more homeless Angelenos die on the streets,” Judge David O. Carter wrote in granting a preliminary injunction.
A federal appeals court temporarily halted the order this week.