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How Mike Bonin plans to solve the homeless crisis in Venice

After spending weeks covering the homeless crisis in Venice, Times reporters Benjamin Oreskes and Doug Smith spoke to City Councilor Mike Bonin, who has represented the area since 2013. In an interview lasting nearly two hours , he explained how the fighting against homelessness consumed the neighborhood and set out his vision of how a human cleansing of the tents along the promenade could happen.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

LAT: We’ve been talking to people you know over the past two or three weeks and we’ve heard a sense of anticipation that something is going to happen. Are you planning anything like cleaning up at Echo Park Lake?

Mike Bonin: It won’t: here is the day, with bells and whistles and pressing buttons. I don’t want to do it that way. But I guess to some extent it’s inevitable to contrast with Echo Park Lake, because that’s kind of part of the framework of that.

So let’s start with the differences between Venice Beach and Echo Park Lake. So even though I was predisposed to do this Echo Park Lake style, it’s really hard to do it in Venice Beach for several purely logistical reasons. It’s really huge. I think it would be logistically impossible to shut everything down as was done for a few months at Echo Park.

I base this on two real experiences.

It was bad before. It is unacceptable and intolerable now.

City Councilor Mike Bonin

First, 21 or 22 years ago we spent $ 15 million to renovate the boardwalk. Even then they closed parts of it, but you could still take the walk. It’s not just a park. It’s a park, it’s a beach, it’s a residential area, a shopping district, so you don’t have the same ability to just close it.

Another example is at the start of the pandemic when the city said the beach was closed even with cops the beach was not closed I mean you would need more officers than they are ‘were using it at Echo Park Lake to physically close off Venice Beach.

I think you need to think about it differently, but neither can you let the current situation continue where it’s all just a camp.

LAT: So what will it be?

MB: What we’re doing is trying to take a more gradual, albeit increasing, approach. The first place we started was the handball courts. It was relatively small, there were about 20 people, maybe a little bigger, and that was because it was the first place where Rec and Parks [Recreation and Parks Department] was going to open.

What made it easier for us was that [the L.A. County Department of Public Health] that week the population restrictions for deck accommodation were relaxed, so we had more beds available right away. It made it possible to make the handball fields, and it went relatively well. Most people have taken a placement. I think a few didn’t, but most did, after a lot of awareness.

So the next thing is [opening] the skate park and the volleyball courts. So it happened two weeks ago. We will therefore continue to work in some of these areas. The next area that is likely to come will kind of be the grassy area.

From this week [June 6], Monday to Wednesday, they raise awareness. It doesn’t even start something. It’s a kind of warm-up.

So once all the resources are fully aligned, they’ll start providing housing for people, and anyone in that area says they’re in there, they want it, so if the number of available beds matches, they enter directly.

Since people don’t say yes right away, they’re going to do sort of zones, I think, starting from the north and working your way down. They will focus very carefully for a few weeks on one area and try to house people there, and then they will do the second, third, and fourth.

We will have the Ramada Inn [run by Project Homekey, which converts hotels into housing]. We will have more deck housing locations [at a local shelter]. We have a small amount of shared housing that I’m working on now ahead of time, which hopefully opens up some bridging slots and then people move in. I have a request before the budget committee later this month that I have already requested, but I think I will get it this time for a million dollars for shared accommodation in Venice. I think it would be like 63 beds right away that they could provide.

As part of the budget request, I think it was a request for $ 3 million or $ 5 million just for the homeless in Venice.

We’re not as big as Skid Row, but this has to be the town’s second goal as it’s one of the biggest [encampments] and it’s also very densely populated.

Los Angeles City Councilor Mike Bonin speaks in 2019.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

LAT: You have voters who blame you for the conditions on the promenade and don’t trust you to do anything about them. Is it difficult to give them this pitch?

MB: It was bad before. It is unacceptable and intolerable now. We can talk about why I don’t say this stuff more than I do. But it is unacceptable and it is intolerable. And that must change.

With the opening of the beds, [A Bridge Home, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s signature transitional housing program] and Ramada will be able to show some additional early evidence of this work. So I think there will be signs of momentum. It is certainly never going to win some people.

Roaming on the promenade, roaming in Venice to some extent, roaming in other parts of my neighborhood, and I think in other parts of the city, has just exploded during the pandemic. I don’t think you can deny it.

I also think things seem to have gone up even more than they did, because of the way we have changed our management of the camps. And so things look different.

Before, it was a park that contained camps. Now that has grown into an area that has become one of the biggest campgrounds around and it was, I think, a confluence of factors.

More and more people have become homeless in Los Angeles during the pandemic. The application of the law has changed dramatically. Services have changed dramatically.

There’s no perfect good, and there’s no absolute bad, there’s just, you know, a lot of complex choices.

LAT: The lack of a date when no camping will be imposed on boardwalks makes it difficult for some of the voters to support what you are doing.

MB: I’m not going to give one until all the resources are in place and I can be confident. The only thing that would be worse than the current situation would be for me to pick an arbitrary date and disregard it or choose an arbitrary date and then enforce the application without having the resources to come up with alternatives.

I understand why people are angry and I understand why people are frustrated. The only thing I can do about it at this point is deliver.

How Mike Bonin plans to solve the homeless crisis in Venice

Rows of personal belongings are covered with a tarp as visitors walk along the Ocean Front Walk in Venice on April 16.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

LAT: If you move those who take a placement and then break down the remaining ones into sections, how do you prevent that section from coming back?

MB: I mean, that’s what they did with the handball fields. Because you asked about the fences, I’m not sure if there will be any fences on the berms or not. If they need to fence in for a while to reseed the weed or something, then OK. If it’s just a pretext, then I’m not crazy about this idea at all. So I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.

I’m not going to water it down. That will be difficult. It’s going to be difficult, and there are going to be questions and circumstances that we’re going to grapple with as we go through this. It will just be different from anywhere else, because of its nature. There are challenges that concern me too, and I’ll be honest about what they are.

The first is that there are a lot of people who will accept [housing]. There are a lot of people who will first say “No” and then accept. There’s a lot of people who’ll say, you know, “Go crazy, I’m going somewhere far away,” and then there’s people who say, “I’m fine, I’m moving from block to block. inland. Then you are even closer to someone’s house. Some in [the Los Angeles Police Department] expressed their concern about this.

How Mike Bonin plans to solve the homeless crisis in Venice

Artist Miriam Rabbeinu stands near her encampment and art along the Ocean Front Walk in Venice.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

LAT: There were these surges of anger or frustration with the state of affairs in Venice. Does this one feel different?

MB: Let me first say that, I think the population of homeless people and the population of people housed in Venice have changed. There are a lot of people who are new to Venice. They certainly weren’t there for the gang violence in the 90s, or the time before, and 87 when there was a large population on the beach. So their point of view is, “This is where I live, and this is how I think it should be.” I think that’s quite valid, and it’s a really big segment.

The homeless population has also changed. I think there is definitely more addiction. I think St. Joe’s [St. Joseph Center] would tell you that there are definitely issues with mental illness. These are all real. It raises the tension, that’s understandable. I don’t think that changes the way you should assess what the appropriate answers are.

You must treat criminal activity as criminal activity. And the person’s housing status is irrelevant to the crime. If you commit an assault, you should be charged, you should be prosecuted, and you should be sentenced.

I worry when it is tied to someone’s housing status. I have also said constantly that we need housing with services. What we are up against now is a public conversation that homelessness is a mental health and addiction issue, not a housing issue.

I don’t understand how we got to a place where this is a or. That must be all.

LAT: For a lot of people, though, they want the crime on their doorstep solved.

MB: In the last budget, [we] got more resources for LAPD in Venice. Overtime has increased. There is a dedicated unit near the ABH [A Bridge Home] again. Over the past year, the Deputy Chief has posted an additional overnight car for Venice Beach. Arrests for both felonies and misdemeanors are on the rise. I mean, that’s what you do to deal with the crime problem. You are doing things to try to prevent it.

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