Roadmap to Housing turns into a Lonesome Highway

By Greta Cobar

In what could be a viewed as a publicity stunt at best or another slap in the face, councilperson Bill Rosendahl made headlines this week as he ceremoniously handed Alfred Adkins the keys to an apartment in Venice. This is the so-called success story of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), an organization that Rosendahl gave $650,000 of Venice funds, that were to be used only in Venice, but are now spread out in the entire eleventh council district. No wonder the first Venice person to receive housing, in Koreatown, did not make the headlines.

The Venice Vehicle Census, conducted by St. Joseph’s and the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, counted 254 “vehicles used as dwelling spaces in Venice” on the morning of July 13, 2010. Then Rosendahl called the September 23, 2010 Town Hall Meeting, where he stood in front of hundreds of Venetians and said loud and clear: “jails exist for those of you who choose not to be part of my program.” Concurrently a police task force was created, and “the mission of the task force is to effect arrests of individuals who are violating local and state codes.” Most specifically, 85.02, which makes it a crime to sleep in a vehicle.

To make a long story short, during the fall and winter months of 2010 the police chased out of Venice as many people living in vehicles as they possibly could in a military, Nazi-reminiscent fashion. The terror, the fear, the arrests, the tows, the tears, the nightmares and then the cold nights on the cement once the vehicles were gone. The people are still here.

Rosendahl surely did deliver on his pledge to put people in jail. He did not deliver on coming up with his program though. Here we are, a year later, and two people have been put into housing. After dozens were arrested, thousands of dollars were spent on towing costs, and years were shaved off people’s existence by the stress of having their shelter either in peril or gone. The initial plan of providing parking lots for those living in vehicles is now out the door.

What happened was Rosendahl used his political power and elbowed his way into the Housing Authority and the Veterans Administration to snatch housing vouchers. He did not create the housing that he is providing, just took it from someone else and is planning on giving it to the 115 people on his “list.” Jeremy Sidell, spokesperson for PATH, could not estimate how many of those 115 people are actually from Venice.

Notice that while 245 people were counted as living in vehicles in Venice alone, only 115 people are on the “list,” which now covers the entire eleventh district. And after bragging about personally giving Atkins the keys to the apartment and half a dozen fresh eggs Rosendahl went on to say: “the others: we have a law that gives us the ability to deal with them if they choose to illegally live in a vehicle.” I guess the other half dozen eggs will be thrown at the rest of us.

As many of you might recall, the “let’s get rid of RVs” hysteria was started on August 17, 2010 by an allegation of an RV dumping sewage made by members of the local Neighborhood Watch. The validity of those allegations has been questioned in the past, and the felonious background of the person making the allegations was exposed by the Beachhead in June (Who’s Watching the Neighborhood Watch) and was validated three months later by an August 25 article in the LA Weekly (Clamor Over Venice311).

The authority cannot make it illegal for people to exist and the affluent cannot eliminate the “undesirables.” But today, when everyone is out looking for a dollar, it seems unusually cruel to target those with the least. I suppose the authority expects us to be grateful that the law still allows sleeping on the sidewalk.