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City Council signs off on contested Venice homeless shelter

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“If we keep saying no to housing and to shelter, we allow the status quo to continue”

Homeless residents in Venice
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, nearly 1,000 homeless residents live in Venice.

Amid both jeers and applause, the Los Angeles City Council gave the green light on Tuesday to a temporary homeless shelter in Venice.

The 154-bed shelter will be built on a former bus yard owned by Metro at Sunset and Pacific avenues. With the council’s approval, it’s set to open next year.

“If we keep saying no to housing and to shelter, we allow the status quo to continue,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, who represents the neighborhood.

Venice has the the largest concentration of homeless residents on the Westside, with nearly 1,000 residents. More than 85 percent of those residents live outside of shelters, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Since it was announced this summer, the shelter has proved contentious. At a packed town hall meeting in October, residents shouted and booed as Mayor Eric Garcetti, Bonin, and Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore laid out plans for the shelter, which is set to be funded through the mayor’s A Bridge Home initiative.

Garcetti’s program was announced in April and is aimed at fostering development of similar shelters in each of the city’s 15 council districts. So far, only one has been completed—a 45-bed complex of trailers alongside the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument—though several others are slated to open in the next few months.

Getting shelters built has proven politically tricky for many members of the City Council. A planned project in Koreatown was abandoned amid resident protests, and proposed sites in Wilmington and Sherman Oaks have faced strong resistance from neighbors.

Emails and financial documents released by Bonin’s office last week in response to a public records request filed by residents shed light on the lengths local officials have gone to in order to bolster support for the shelters.

The documents show that the councilmember agreed to pay nonprofit Invisible People $10,000 for a series of videos profiling homeless residents in the area.

“The group opposing bridge housing is trying to characterize all homeless people in Venice as dangerous criminals from elsewhere,” Bonin’s spokesperson, David Graham-Caso, wrote in an email to Invisible People director Mark Horvath. “Your videos can help answer that unfair characterization, and we would like as many videos as possible.”

On Tuesday, dozens of residents voiced both support and opposition to the shelter, with opponents arguing that the housing center was too close to schools and residences, and would create safety issues in the neighborhood.

Supporters said the shelter would give unhoused residents an alternative to sleeping on sidewalks and in makeshift encampments.

“I’ve seen people die on our streets while waiting for approved housing,” said Will Hawkins, who formerly led the Venice Neighborhood Council’s homelessness committee.

Bonin acknowledged Tuesday that getting homeless housing built in any community can be tricky.

“We hear the same objections everywhere, but we hear more people saying: ‘Solve the damn problem,’” Bonin said.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Will Hawkins founded the Venice Neighborhood Council’s homelessness committee. He served as chair, but did not found the committee.