Abbot Kinney Blvd.

Deborah Lashever: Shero of Venice

By Greta Cobar

Community activism and participation in the struggle for equality for all members of our community are Deborah Lashever’s trademarks. It is an honor to commemorate International Women’s Day by spotlighting her efforts in the Beachhead.

Beachhead: How did you and Venice find each other?
Deborah Lashever: I’ve been coming to Venice since I was 13. As soon as I could drive, I would be here all the time. In 2009, when my Mother died and I got a little inheritance, I figured the best thing to do was to open a store in Venice. And so came to be the Bohemian Exchange on Abbot Kinney boulevard. That was way before Abbot Kinney was like it is now. It was really nice, with the little independent boutiques. First Fridays were a lovely time to stroll down the street, and the locals loved it. I used to make up to half of the rent for the store during First Fridays. Then GQ called Abbot Kinney the coolest block in America, and that’s when it was all over. The invasion of the food trucks followed, and they wouldn’t go away. It’s what I call slash and burn gentrification, and we’re in the middle of it.

BH: When the Abbot Kinney boulevard crowd changed from locals to Hollywood wanna-be yuppies and hipsters who drove here trying to become cool by hanging out on the “coolest block,” the Bohemian Exchange store was squeezed out of existence by the brand-name flagship stores that all of a sudden sprouted with the same goal as the wanna-be crowd: to become cool and popular by association. All of a sudden the bohemian vibe of Venice that attracted the out-of-town crowd and stores in the first place was not welcome on Abbot Kinney Blvd. And neither was the Bohemian Exchange.
So what did Deborah Lashever choose to do? Hold on to the lease, rent the place out, minimize expenses by living on a boat, and dedicate her time and energy to the vulnerable individuals in our community.
From volunteering for the Venice Community Housing to running the storage facility for the house-less at the beach, to being an integral part of Occupy Venice for 3 years, from helping run such events as the Sleepouts at Beyond Baroque and the Jazz at Palms Court, Deborah has truly become a shero in Venice.

DL: It’s really important for me to do this work. It hurts me so much to see injustice, especially to vulnerable people. I can’t not do anything. It kind of all started with my Open Letter to the Community that the Beachhead published in April 2012. It was in response to the first police sweep on 3rd Ave. and Rose on March 7, 2012, which, as I stated then, lead to the devastation of 50 people and everything they had, which wasn’t much. I decided then that I can’t let this happen, not on my watch.

BH: What have you done between then and now to address the police sweeps of the house-less population in Venice?
DL: Currently the LAPD is conducting four scheduled sweeps per month: two on Ocean Front Walk and two on 3rd Ave. I am always there, early in the morning, at each sweep, and I act as a buffer between the house-less individuals and the authorities. I mediate and help fill out incident reports. It’s amazing to me how harsh the city is against this vulnerable population.

BH: What legal protections does the house-less population have in this city?
DL: The Venice Justice Committee meets once a month to help people deal with the countless number of tickets the LAPD is handing out in Venice. With the help of an attorney and several dedicated community activists, we provide legal help for people to get their tickets dismissed or to do community service, if they need to. We try to help people avoid getting warrants and going to jail. What we are dealing with is selective enforcement, the cops target the same people over and over again, giving them the same tickets over and over. Some people have as many as twenty frivolous tickets. The cops are trying to get them out of the area, and they are willing to spend the money to get rid of them by pushing them somewhere else instead of providing them the resources that they need. Each sweep costs $7,500.

BH: Is anything being done to address this discrimination based on economics that is becoming more prevalent in this country?
DL: I am working with the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN) and the Southern California Homeless Bill of Rights to pass The Right to Rest Act, which is part of the Homeless Bill of Rights, which would allow people to sleep, be it on the sidewalk or in their vehicles if they have no other place to go. Carol Liu, Representative from La Crescenta, is sponsoring the Act in the California Senate and it’s gonna happen, it will pass. People need to see house-less people as part of their community, not as “others.”

BH: Last month you were one of five individuals awarded the Young Innovators of Venice Award for your work with the Free Storage program in Venice.
DL: Yes, ironically the recognition came from Mike Bonin’s office, even though personally he’s against expanding the program. Right now the program accommodates 26 people, but we want to expand it to 200. Bonin has repeatedly said that there’s no room in Venice for that. We offered many suggestions, but they were all turned down. A similar storage program has been very successful in Costa Mesa, accommodating 300 people. Initially it was started by churches while the residents, law enforcement and businesses opposed it. Now they all love it. A shower truck and a washing machine truck come twice a week, to serve the people using the storage. Thus they are clean, their clothes are clean, and they are not carrying everything they own with them.

BH: Thank you, Deborah, for all the wonderful volunteer work that you do and for being the magnificent shero that you are here in Venice.

Deborah Lashever