It’s Day One for LA Sheriff HOST Deputies (Homeless Outreach Services Team) who marched onto the Venice Boardwalk to the sound of cheers from nearby residents who had come to witness the bold move from the County’s top cop.
LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva mandated the move to use the department’s HOST deputies because he says the City of LA “handcuffed” LAPD from doing the same.
“What we saw was human misery,” says Lt. Geff Deedrick who heads the HOST, “and the Sheriff told me we’re going to do this project and my job is to fulfill that directive.”
Deedrick says the July 4th date is a goal, but not a deadline, and that the process could take much longer.
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“This isn’t a one-size fits all issue,” he says, “this is individual conversations, we need to know who’s here and what their individual needs are.”
Some homeless rights advocates took issue with today’s roll out. One man who didn’t want to be identified likened it to a police state.
“This is f---d up,” he said, “You think we’re in a Communist country?”
The Department brought help including social workers from the Veterans Affairs and volunteers from the non-profit Share, which finds shared housing and offers recovery services to those experiencing homelessness.
“They’re not acting like cops, they’re acting like social workers,” said Brian Ulf, director of SHARE, “There are no rules here and that’s why the Sheriff stepped in. If the chief and the LAPD are handcuffed to not be able to enforce rules, that’s a problem.”
The LA Police Department issued a statement saying it welcomed the sheriff’s plans and that it was willing to work with partner agencies in the interest of safety and support for the unhoused community. Tuesday, LA Chief Michel Moore went a step further calling on LA City Council to end the moratorium that he says will not allow his officers to enforce the city’s no-camping laws.
Sheriff Villanueva pointed the finger at LA city leaders and its mayor for what's become of the Venice Boardwalk. On Tuesday, Alex Comisar, spokesman for LA Mayor Eric Garcetti, says the mayor is just as impatient as anyone.
“The conditions in the encampments on the Venice Boardwalk are not safe or healthy for anyone," Comisar said in a statement to NBC4, "that’s why we are making historic investments this year in new housing across the city, and standing up more shelter than we ever have before. The courts have been clear about how we’re allowed to enforce camping laws in public spaces, and the Mayor is more interested in pressing ahead with the difficult work of ending homelessness than in political theater.”
LA Councilman Mike Bonin, which represents the Venice community, took to Twitter in a 15-thread tirade against the sheriff, using more than half of his tweets to call out allegations of civil rights violations against the depart and calling this move in Venice a “roadblock to progress.”
“He went on a PR blitz, promising his own notorious brand of justice,” Bonin wrote, “any involvement from Villanueva is troubling, especially for people concerned with civil rights.”
As to what Bonin himself has done for Venice, he wrote: “In Venice, we're working to marshall resources to offer housing and services to hundreds of people living on the streets. Villanueva hasn't offered actual help.”
And yet the LASD Homeless Outreach team says they found three people who accepted housing within the first two hours of boots on the ground, one man collapsing at deputy’s feet in gratitude.
“This is a humanitarian mission that needs to happen,” Lt. Deedrick said, “and we’re not going to walk away from this.”