VENICE, Calif. (CN) – Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti cut the ribbon Tuesday on a temporary shelter and health services site for the homeless in Venice, California, capping off years of legal battles and clashes with upset residents of the gritty beach town.
Garcetti joined LA Councilmember Mike Bonin to open “Pacific Sunset A Bridge Home” shelter, which offers 100 beds for adults and 54 for youth. It’s the 10th such facility in LA, providing medical and social services before placing homeless residents in a permanent home.
The mayor told dozens of people gathered at the facility grounds Tuesday that officials are on track to open 26 total bridge home sites – with 2,000 shelter beds overall – by July 1, with plans to serve 6,000 people across the city annually.
In 2019, authorities reported there were 60,000 homeless people in LA County – more than 36,000 in the city of Los Angeles – with most living on the street.
The figures represented increases for both the county and the city, which have struggled to house homeless residents faster than they are becoming homeless.
Garcetti, who launched bridge homes in response to the growing homelessness crisis, said the Pacific Sunset facility – built on a former regional bus depot – is a means to an end.
“We don’t see this as the final destination for people,” Garcetti said. “Bridge housing is just that, a bridge to housing.”
Plans for the facility faced fierce opposition from some residents, who shouted down Garcetti and Bonin’s plan at a 2018 town hall and followed up with a lawsuit seeking to block shelter construction.
A California judge struck down Venice homeowners’ lawsuit and now a host of Venice organizations have stepped in to support the bridge home project. But Garcetti said more work remains to fully support the homeless.
“I knew that if we got to today, and that this site wouldn’t be filled with abstract fears but rather the flesh and blood of our neighbors, that this would become a totally different struggle,” Garcetti said.
Mark Ryavec, president of Venice Stakeholders’ Association, the group that filed the lawsuit challenging the shelter plan, said he remains concerned about noise and safety issues at the facility but hopes homeless residents are well served nonetheless.
“I wish them well,” Ryavec said of the shelter. “With that said, we remain concerned about noise, traffic and lack of parking in the area.”
Outside the shelter, Gary Mann, a painter who has been sleeping on and off the streets of Venice for 30 years, told Courthouse News he faced personal attacks from residents who want the homeless cleared from public space.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” said Mann, who operates the “Framed in Venice” project on the nearby boardwalk. “They tried to chase me and other homeless people out. I couldn’t believe the venom from these people.”
Homeless residents often face run-ins with angry residents, some of whom support housing for the homeless but feel they must lodge complaints with elected officials about poor sanitation and safety concerns.
The clashes have pushed local police into first-responder roles amid a slow trickle of publicly financed affordable housing alternatives.
Sharlana Torrey, a homeless resident who’d told Courthouse News in a 2019 interview about unhealthy conditions in an encampment blocks away from Pacific Sunset, died this past November from a health-related condition that worsened after living on the street, according to her family.
Mann toured the facility Tuesday, snapping photos and asking questions of staff at his soon-to-be temporary home.
“If I don’t get off the street, I’ll end up in jail,” said Mann, who is originally from Birmingham, England. “I’m going mad being out here.”
Only homeless residents of Venice who interacted with service providers such as People Assisting the Homeless, or PATH, are eligible for bed space at Pacific Sunset.
Once there, shelter operators PATH and Safe Place For Youth provide services for pets, art therapy, gardening volunteer opportunities, daily meals, hot showers and a weekly medical clinic.
Now that Pacific Sunset is up and running, police will step up enforcement of nuisance violations and sanitation workers can launch cleanups or teardowns of encampments, city officials said.
Steve Fiechter of PATH told Courthouse News the facility doesn’t offer walk-up services and that about 460 people who’ve already interacted with PATH will be eligible for beds once current shelter residents move into homes, which he estimates will take at least six months.
“Part of the slowdown comes from the permanent housing element, specifically the lack of supply, particularly on the affordable side,” said Fiechter, adding there is technically no limit on how long people can stay at Pacific Sunset.
Mann said that after living homeless for so long, he will gladly accept services and any home that officials can offer him, even if that takes him away from the beach town he has called home for decades.
“They’ll probably send me out to Lancaster,” said Mann, referring to a city on the edge of the Mojave Desert an hour and half away from Venice. “Fuck it. I’m going.”