homeless

Venice Beach Boardwalk Is Clear, Businesses Say Tourists Are Coming Back

Some residents of Venice worry there is a repopulation happening on the boardwalk now.

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People who live near the Venice Boardwalk are concerned that it won’t stay that way. John Cádiz Klemack reports for the NBC4 News on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

The view of Venice Beach from Ocean Front Walk is vastly different today than it was just a few weeks ago. Homeless encampments, tents, piles of personal property and garbage - gone. And those behind the program that made it happen say they promise to keep it that way.

"This is the way it should be," says Michael Charles, a street vendor who says he felt pushed off the boardwalk because of the encampments, but is now back and seeing what's changed.

"They needed help, it looks like they got it."

Paula Ruiz, 20-year owner of Amor Amor, a hat shop, welcomes the news.

"It's clean, it feels safe." She says the last two years have been the hardest on her business.

"So scary," she says. "There were people who would come in here on drugs. They could kill you and not know what they're doing, that's the sad part."

For six weeks from the end of June and all of July, "Encampments to Homes" - a program spear-headed by LA Councilman Mike Bonin's office and the local non-profit St. Joseph's Center, aimed to clear the boardwalk of encampments and the estimated 200 people who lived there.

"We set out to house people off Ocean Front Walk, to give them a sense of dignity and a safe place to stay," says St. Joseph's Center CEO VaLecia Adams Kellum. "I believe we did that in a pretty profound way."

The nonprofit says they engaged with more than 300 people experiencing homelessness and living on the boardwalk. Of those, 213 agreed to services; 185 of those were placed into temporary housing with assistance to move into permanent housing down the road; 7 people were placed into permanent housing (5 were reunited with family) and 21 accepted services but then opted out and went back to the street.

But some residents of Venice worry there is a repopulation happening on the boardwalk now.

"They're using sleeping bags right now, they're not full-on encampments but they're here," says Dave Tanner of the community group Friends of the Venice Boardwalk. The group formed more than a year ago when they say they saw the decaying effects of homelessness encroaching on the boardwalk.

Photos taken Thursday morning show tents on the beach, some people sleeping in doorways and on benches, and garbage piling up near trash cans. Tanner doesn't believe enforcement of the no-camping laws is happening.

"There's been progress but there's a lot more to do," he says.

The LAPD has a special Beach Detail Patrol that monitors Venice Beach. Deputy Chief Blake Chow says enforcement happens every day and that every morning his team gets an update on tents on the boardwalk that vary from four to 10 daily. He says teams work with this living in the tents to remove them and move on throughout the day. But he says that by city ordinance, a tent is any structure that has more than two sides - community groups have a very different definition of what they're seeing, which is often no tent but rather umbrellas and personal effects. Chow says those things cannot be enforced.

"We know we can't put a fence around Venice Beach, it's an ongoing effort to change the culture," says Kellum from the St. Joseph Center. "But we're not going to see people living in tents on the boardwalk, rebuilding those massive encampments."

But Tanner says some residents are worried about what happens when temporary housing ends.

"Focusing just on the boardwalk doesn't solve the boardwalk issues because there's an ecosystem of issues just off the boardwalk," he says, adding that he wants to see a permanent fix for the homeless crisis.

"There needs to be a flood of resources into all of Los Angeles more broadly," he says.