Hangin’ with the Homeless on a Sunday Afternoon

By Stewart Lopez

It is Sunday afternoon and the sun is going down. The sounds of drum and flute crash through the breeze like waves on the sand and birds in the air. The beach is alive and it feels like home. The sun is saying its goodbyes; everyone is desperate to get in the last few beats on their drums and steps in their dance before the police surround the drum circle with their sirens and loud speakers to disperse the crowd.

“Every drum needs to be off of the sand, violators will be cited,” an unwritten rule authorities have made known strikes our ears again. Like cattle, the people leave. The party is over. Soon enough, we begin to see who is on their way home, who still has not had enough of the beat, and last but certainly not least, who is homeless.

Homeless individuals may be hard to distinguish in the boardwalk crowd. After spending time with them, one realizes these individuals that call the beach their home are actually an organized community. They are a society of their own, with a hierarchy consisting of elder council and obedient youth. The spoils of the daily routine are endless for the younger, more resourceful “Street Kids” in the mix. They learn the ropes from the more experienced homeless beach dwellers. What to do and what to say in different situations. They look out for each other and it is a beautiful thing. Amongst the group, they seem to maintain peace and order through the one thing they lack from the general public:  Respect.

They are certainly not a violent crowd, and definitely not stupid. A vast majority of the homeless beach dweller population have been around much longer than you would think.

The 60s and 70s crowd as I like to call them, have been around since the 1960s and 1970s. Death is not a stranger in their community, but we hardly ever hear about it on the news because their part of our population is grotesquely overlooked. They are a declassified faction of society not seen as people, no not here in Venice! On the Venice Beach Boardwalk all choose a side; you are either Homo Sapien or Homeless.

Since when does financial status make you less of an equal to the next? I have met many who call the beach home and it has been like this for quite some time according to the intellectuals of the scene. Some complain about the police who come and kick them to wake them up. If you ask me, they do not complain enough! Authorities harass them with hate fueled “bait”.

They seem to provoke the “beach heads” to make a reason and right to arrest them. Hardly any of these noble characters ever bite, they know or they have been told how to handle themselves in most situations. For the most part, these individuals are an educated crowd just looking for some respect and peace of mind in a world where that, in itself, is a rarity. It is shocking to know how brutal things can get out there.

Despite the ordinance which passed allowing them to sleep there on the boardwalk legally (an ordinance was passed due to there not being enough empty beds in the homeless shelters), the homeless beach dwellers do not seem to be getting the respect they deserve or any respect at all. If the authorities see these people as a lower class of hominid life form, as the incessantly complaining Venetian “high class” obviously see them, then they don’t deserve their badges . Even their mothers would feel ashamed.

A popular belief amongst the wealthy “higher” class Venetian’s is that overlooking the problem is the best recourse to keep them from getting dirty. Little do they know, this cancerous thought is the one thing keeping Venice from being seen for what it used to be, a happy and generous community of freedom, unsurpassed in its artistic grace and glory.

Cady Clasby, a new AmeriCorps volunteer with the Venice Community Housing Corporation, states “time will separate those who ignore the problem, those sit idle and hope for change, and those who want to make a difference. Let’s hope the latter triumphs the former and we can come to a consensus on these issues. Together, I believe we can strengthen our community.”