Under Our Collective Shadow The Unhoused Sleep

by Krista Schwimmerhomeless

Each night, as the southern sunlight dissipates in the City of Angels, a shadow takes its place.

This shadow sneaks across every sidewalk, through every street, and into every neighborhood. It is a collective shadow that includes our unacknowledged fears, hatred, shame, and greed. Many of us scurry from this shadow into our waiting beds, refusing to share in any part of its making. Others take to the street, stand up in the courts, and call out at community meetings, carrying the light of conscience to illuminate not only the shadow’s causes, but its effect. For, underneath the thread worn blanket of this shadow, over 30,000 human beings sleep each night — sleep without shelter, without protection, without purpose. In the Greater Los Angeles Region, homelessness has exploded into a shocking humanitarian crisis.

On March 29th, Councilman Mike Bonin held a Town Hall meeting at Westminster Elementary School. To a packed house, he presented county, city, and Venice strategies to bring homelessness to what he termed “a functional zero”. In his opening statements, Bonin said that homelessness was probably going to get worse before it gets better. He called dealing with homelessness controversial and divisive. Inaction was worse, however, than divisiveness. “I can’t wait any longer for consensus before we take action.

Bonin said that Los Angeles County and City are working on the plan in “an unparalleled cooperation.” All three plans depend on a data based Coordinated Entry System, (CES). According to “Home For Good”, one of the developers of the system, “coordinated entry is an approach to end homelessness that requires comprehensive coordination of all housing and service resources in a community to better match people experiencing homelessness to appropriate permanent housing placements.” (i.)Dept. of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) is now mandating that communities receiving HUD housing funding implement this kind of system (ii.)

Bonin said there is “no one type of homelessness, no one cause of homelessness, no one solution.” Ending homelessness in Venice, he said, required ending it in Los Angeles, too. The majority of the night, he detailed first the City, then the Venice plans. This article highlights the Venice plan.

Before introducing the Venice plan, Bonin showed some results of a Venice community survey. This survey showed significant support for:safe parking; building housing on City owned land; expanding voluntary storage; reforming and expanding the shelter system; mobile restrooms and showers; and dedicated police officers trained to address homeless issues. The nearly 800 people surveyed were largely opposed to inaction.

The Venice Plan has three main components: preserving affordable housing; increasing services and outreach; and implementing a street strategy.

To preserve affordable housing, Bonin laid out five steps. The first two recommendations are to reform the Mello Act and to legislate short-term rentals. For the last few years, local activists have claimed that it is exactly because of Mello Act violations and illegal short-term rentals that Venice has been rapidly losing its affordable housing in the first place.
The other three steps are to build more affordable housing; to build housing specifically for the homeless; and to implement a rapid housing program. So far, Bonin is working with Metro to use the Metro Yard to build at least 35% affordable units. For housing the homeless, the city is looking to use the Dell/Pacific parking lot.

As part of the outreach and services strategy, Bonin launched the CES, Venice Forward, a year ago. Although this collaborative network consists of over thirty community partners, some long-time homeless activists stated they have been shut out of the entire process. Calvin Moss, activist with “Food Not Bombs” and Co-founder of the Venice Justice Committee sited three organizations Bonin should reach out to: the Venice Justice Committee, Food Not Bombs, and the Occupy People. These people in these groups, Moss continued, are not only doing the outreach, but are not afraid of the homeless.
The outreach plan also includes requesting a $50,000 grant for the LAPD Chaplains Regina and Steve Weller and increasing training for first responders.

As part of the street strategy here in Venice, Bonin proposed a variety of specific actions. The first is to use the Westminster Senior Center for a voluntary storage facility for the homeless. Chrysalis would serve as the non-profit partner to manage the facility. In his overall city plan, Bonin said Los Angeles needed at least fifteen voluntary storage facilities. Right now, there are only two: a small trailer here in Venice; and a warehouse on Skid Row.

The second action is to either find funds or buy a trailer for the non-profit group, Lava Mae, to bring mobile shower units to Venice. A third action Bonin is proposing is to increase restrooms. Two ways to do this would be to keep Ocean Front Walk bathrooms open later or round the clock; and to bring Porta Potties to the community.

Although Bonin’s survey showed significant support for safe parking, Bonin simply called it a missing piece. In the public comments, both Peggy Kennedy and Margaret Molloy reminded Bonin that safe parking was promised by Councilman Bill Rosendahl in 2010. At the time, Bonin was Chief of Staff.

How much would the City and the Venice plan cost? 1.8 billion dollars over a period of ten years. To fund the plan, Bonin is proposing some kind of ballot initiative in November.
Following his presentation over forty-five community members were given up to two minutes each for public comments.

The community received Bonin’s presentation with a mix of enthusiasm, distrust, and anger. Three consistent concerns were funding, expediency, and de-criminalization of the homeless. John Raphling, a civil rights and criminal attorney, feared that the ballot idea for funding would be a dodge. Where would the money come from if the ballot issue does not work? He said that de-criminalization was not discussed in Bonin’s proposal. “We need to stop criminalizing people for being poor and living in the streets,” Raphling stated.

Linda Lucks, former Venice Neighborhood Council President, and Peggy Kennedy, Co-Founder of the Venice Justice Committee, thought Bonin was not acting quickly enough. Although Lucks was thrilled with the proposal, she pointed out that it had taken four years to get here. “It has to be on a fast track. We’re in an emergency.” She said that there were over 400 parcels of city owned land just in CD11 alone that could be used. She called for Mayor Garcetti and Bonin to step up.

In an emotional voice, Kennedy called Bonin to “put tents, bring trailers, and open toilets, for God’s sake. It’s an emergency. People die! Do you know people die from being homeless . . . It’s a horror story.” She also stated that unless there is a violent incident, armed police were not necessary.

Since the Town Hall meeting, the City has made four motions that support some of the specific goals in Venice. The City, however, also passed Ordinance 184182, amending Section 56.11, Article 6, Chapter V of the Los Angeles Municipal Code to regulate the storage of personal property in public areas. Now, other than tents, belongings of the unhoused must fit into a 60 gallon container or they will be confiscated and stored in a distant location. This motion was passed, 13-1, the day after Bonin’s Town Hall. Only Gil Cedillo opposed it. Is it any wonder that Venice activists and some residents do not trust Bonin?

As the meeting started winding down, a voice in the back of the room rose, addressing the LAPD directly. It was Calvin Moss. “LAPD, you should be ashamed of yourself . . . how many more people are going to be murdered in Venice? “ He was referring to the three men killed in 2015: Brendon Glenn; Jason Davis, and Jascent Jamal Warren. Both Brendon Glenn and Jason Davis were shot by LAPD officers. Twice that night, Moss brought up the fact that no one had talked about these deaths tonight, but they should have.

Moss, along with Peggy Kennedy, then left the meeting. In an instance, the calmness of the meeting changed to aggression, at least in the back of the room. Senior Lead Officer Theresa Skinner appeared agitated by Moss’ words. She looked across the room at two other female officers in the back corner and, in unison, without a word exchanged, the officers charged out after the two. Moss and Kennedy had not only left, but had done nothing to warrant their action.

The Beachhead reached out to Calvin Moss after the meeting. Asked about the officers’ behavior at the meeting, Moss replied that “the LAPD and City of LA are well aware of the activities of the activist groups that work independently of the city and have referred to us as ‘Carol’s Cadre,’ in the past. Carol Sobel is the Civil Rights attorney that has supported the unhoused in Venice and LA. The LAPD have repeatedly tried to intimidate these activities.” Also, on February 17th, the law office of Carol Sobel and John Givensbn, filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles on behalf of the Venice Justice Committee and Peggy Kennedy. The lawsuit seeks to challenge the sunset provision on Ocean Front Walk. Currently, this provision does not allow solicitation of donations for free speech activities after sunset.

The officers’ sudden and aggressive display demonstrates the surprise nature of the unacknowledged, collective shadow. Until we acknowledge the dark emotions that we project on the unhoused, movement towards ending homelessness will be at a snail’s pace. And, each night, when the sun goes down over the City of Angels, our collective shadow will continue to claim dominion over its most vulnerable citizens.