Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Councilmember Mike Bonin, and LAPD Chief Michel Moore were present Wednesday night at a heated town hall in Venice to discuss a proposed homeless shelter in the neighborhood.
Members of the 400-plus crowd, some holding a banner that said “Venice Beach: Where human poop and needles are part of the fun,” shouted and booed as the mayor laid out plans for the project, which would rise from a former bus yard at the northern edge of the city.
“This is a decision about whether we keep people on the streets or take them off the streets,” said Garcetti, struggling at times to be heard over members of the crowd. “I think that’s an easy decision.”
The proposed shelter is part of the mayor’s “A Bridge Home” program, which calls for temporary shelters in each of the city’s 15 council districts. Announced in April, the plan has become a key part of the mayor’s strategy to address LA’s homelessness crisis.
Last month, the first of these shelters opened near the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument in Downtown LA. According to the mayor, 11 of the shelter’s early residents have already been placed into housing.
The shelter in Venice would be about three times larger than the El Pueblo facility, in terms of capacity. It would contain 100 beds for adults and 54 beds for homeless youth, with separate bathrooms and showers for both groups.
But Venice residents speaking Wednesday night said they fear the shelter would attract more homeless residents to the area.
“Is this just a welcome mat for the rest of the country?” asked another resident when Garcetti, Bonin, and chief Michel Moore began taking questions from the audience.
One resident likened the shelter to a luxury hotel.
“You have transients here, and there’s going to be more of them if you put in this Ritz Carlton by the beach,” said Venice resident Travis Binen.
To address some of these concerns, city officials have promised to dedicate increased funding for sanitation in areas around shelters and step up enforcement of laws preventing residents from storing bulky items on the street.
That hasn’t satisfied opponents of the project, who wore matching shirts and chanted “Venice says no” throughout the meeting.
Many questions from the crowd centered on whether the shelter would lead to a rise in crime or drug use.
“Most people who are homeless in Venice are not criminals,” said Bonin, drawing boos.
The Venice project is one of 12 proposed shelters that the city is now moving forward with, in addition to the El Pueblo facility. Plans for a shelter in the heart of Koreatown were scrapped when neighbors protested the proposed location, near the Wilshire/Vermont subway station.
Proposed shelter sites in Sherman Oaks, Wilmington, and San Pedro drew similar objections from neighbors.
Not all residents in attendance at the Venice meeting say they are against the shelter.
“Venice is supposed to be about community and love,” said one resident, who identified as homeless. “We’re not going away.”