By Deborah Lashever
If we wish to honestly “clean up” Venice we need an expanded storage program, an adequate number of trash cans and 24/7 bathrooms. The current city program of criminalizing unhoused people does not solve anything and wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars. “Cleaning up” cannot and should not equal criminalization. That is discrimination, and is illegal. The act of being without housing is not a crime.
If citizens are bothered by piles of belongings, trash or refuse, the solution is to demand adequate Venice storage facilities, trash cans and 24/7 bathrooms when and where they are needed. That would actually solve these problems. The clean-up “sweeps” on OFW will not fix them. Neither will police. These are basic human concerns and they have obvious, basic solutions. Criminalization of situations people cannot help – like urination in alleys when there are no bathrooms, or having stuff on the sidewalk when there is no storage – can never solve these problems.
The Council office admits that each clean-up “sweep” on Ocean Front Walk costs a minimum of $7500. One a month comes to $90,000 a year. In September the city conducted essentially four. That’s $30,000 for just one month. If this trend continues the city will spend $360,000 per year on something that must be repeated ad infinitum. This program obviously does not work and, in addition, too easily violates people’s civil rights so the city, rightfully, keeps getting sued, wasting more hundreds of thousands of dollars that could obviously be better spent.
Councilman Mike Bonin is the only person every official is looking at to resolve the issues in Venice. He needs input from compassionate Venetians and support for real solutions – not to criminalize people who are down on their luck – but to spend our resources on getting them the help they need to get their issues addressed so they can get off the street.
If we had an expanded storage program and adequate public hygiene, like they do in other communities, like Costa Mesa, Bonin could accomplish his goal of “cleaning up Venice” without being punitive or harassing vulnerable people. He could actually help them. He could help all of us! It would cost the city far less and be a huge win/win for Venice.
Costa Mesa has a low cost program that includes adequate full time storage, bathrooms, trash cans, and once a week mobile showers/washing machines for unhoused people. Workers and volunteers interface with unhoused clients daily, building trust and connecting them with services. They have had wonderful success. Residents, businesses, law enforcement and civic leaders are extremely pleased. The community has been transformed! Unhoused people are clean with clean clothes and only a day pack, just like any other community member. They are free to access services to help procure employment, housing, counseling and health services. And they do.
People regain their dignity. The entire community benefits. And it costs pennies compared to what we are now spending on punitive and barbaric measures that help no one and must be repeated forever.
Why not try? Bonin has been made aware of this inclusive program but has not seen fit to implement one yet. He needs to feel public support because he evidently does not believe that Venice is still a community of Heart – not only money – and that Venetians will overwhelmingly support compassionate solutions. Tell him.
The bottom line is that unhoused people in Venice are not being assisted, but instead are being summarily discriminated against, marginalized, maligned, and penalized for things they cannot help. They have no bathrooms much of the night yet get harassed for ‘going’ in alleys or yards. They aren’t allowed adequate storage but are subject to having their only belongings confiscated and thrown out by the city. They have no dwellings so must sleep outside, where they are constantly harassed by irate citizens and police, and ticketed/arrested, with the city ever seeking to put in more laws against them. The city can insist that people get off the sidewalks all they want. The problem is they have nowhere else to go.
The money is available to help at least with basic needs until we can figure out housing. Bonin has been given $500,000 specifically for homeless issues in Venice. That is over and above the $5,000,000 Los Angeles has been given through the Operation Healthy Streets program. If we are to have actual solutions, Bonin needs to understand that Venetians will politically support him only if he implements positive, win/win solutions for everyone in Venice and stops the criminalization process..
Please watch this short video on the Free Storage Venice program. Besides housing, of course, this program is a healthy chunk of what we need to start really solving the immediate issues in our community: http://vimeo.com/100468839