Venice residents continue to oppose plans for a new homeless shelter at a former hotel and some are accusing officials of deliberately building services in Venice to keep the homeless population out of other parts of the area.

On Thursday the LA Bureau of Engineering held a public hearing for the proposed conversion of the Ramada Inn to an interim homeless housing shelter under the City’s Project Home Key program.

While City and PATH representatives say the shelter will be an excellent resource to assist the area’s growing unhoused population, many community members fear the project may backfire and attract more homeless individuals to Venice.

The City of LA bought the two-story 12,220-square foot property located at 3130 Washington Blvd. for $10 million in December 2020 and intend to spend around $380,000 on renovations.

The City plans to partner with People Assisting the Homeless to transform it to a 33 bed interim housing center with comprehensive case management services for five years and then convert it to permanent supportive housing project.

Over thirty community members spoke on Thursday in opposition of the project. Many argued that the City is trying to make Venice a containment zone for City District 11’s homeless population in a similar way that Skid Row became an unofficial containment zone for Downtown LA’s homeless population.

While Venice represents roughly 4.3 percent of CD-11’s land, it houses 60.5 percent of the district’s homeless population, according to LASHA‘s 2020 homeless count.

“We’re not rejecting any solutions to homelessness. However, we are rejecting the homeless containment of Venice,” said local resident Saul Goodman. “When Councilmember Mike Bonin first came to Venice in 2013 we had about 167 homeless people, per LASHA estimates. Now we have over 2000, so I’d call that containment.”

The argument over the proposed Ramada Inn in some ways boils down to a ‘chicken or the egg scenario’.

A group of community members believe that Venice attracts unhoused individuals because it has a high concentration of homeless services and a lenient attitude towards street homelessness. They fear that adding more beds locally will exacerbate the problem and also contribute to raising rates of neighborhood crime.

PATH, the City, and other Venice community members believe the opposite and say shelters are a key solution to decrease the local homeless population.

“A change of use from a low cost visitor recreation use motel to an interim supportive, affordable housing allows the city to begin to respond to the current emergency homeless crisis,” said City staff member Eileen Schoetzow. “New affordable housing is a more sustainable, just, and equitable action towards addressing chronic homelessness in the community of Venice.”

Venice’s homeless population increased by 57 percent from 2019 to 2020. While LASHA is foregoing its annual count in 2021, this number has almost certainly increased over the course of the pandemic.

The public comment period for the project is over but if approved, it is expected to reach the Coastal Commission on March 5.

Clara@smdp.com