Tents: The encampments in Venice have drawn County officials into a war of words. Clara Harter

Action is being taken to tackle the Boardwalk’s homelessness crisis, but it is being led by two different men with two separate strategies and no intention of collaboration.

On Tuesday, CD-11 Councilman Mike Bonin outlined his six week “Encampment to Home Program”, which plans to utilize government agencies and local non-profits to offer a “pathway to permanent housing” to almost 200 people living along Ocean Front Walk.

Bonin explicitly stated that his operation would not use the LAPD and did not clarify whether there would be any enforcement following the outreach process.

On June 7, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced his intention to clear the Boardwalk of encampments by July 4 by utilizing the Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach and Service Team to act as a “collaborative bridge” connecting unhoused residents to services and housing.

Villanueva has said he is not opposed to enforcing no camping laws after a thorough outreach process, however he has yet to disclose any timeline for encampment clean-ups.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Villanueva made it clear that he will not be backing down in response to Bonin’s plan, which he described on Monday as a “too little too late PR campaign devoid of substance.”

Villanueva broke with jurisdictional tradition to intervene in Venice, because he believes there is a “humanitarian crisis” on the Boardwalk due to City and County politicians’ “failure to regulate public space.”

The Boardwalk’s unhoused population swelled significantly during the pandemic as have rates of violent crime and encampment fires.

Bonin is highly critical of both Villanueva’s administration and his current intervention in Venice.

In a Tuesday letter announcing his plan, Bonin said that the Sheriff’s approach “leads to re-traumatization, breaks crucial connections with service providers, creates barriers to housing and employment, locks people further into homelessness or poverty, and can lead to displacement into neighboring areas,” adding that therefore his own effort “leads with housing, and not with handcuffs.”

HOST Director Lieutenant Geoffrey Deedrick said that LASD has made zero arrests since they’ve been deployed to the Boardwalk. He added that through their seven outreach missions so far, they have made contact with 140 unhoused individuals and moved 15 people into housing.

Villanueva said there were four consecutive steps HOST will take to clear out encampments.

The first is offering housing through shelters, non-profits, and Project Homekey; the second is safe camping sites; the third step is people choosing to leave on their own; and the fourth is using law enforcement to make them leave.

“We don’t expect to get to the fourth option because I think most people will be done with the first three,” said Villanueva.

Bonin’s plan focuses on the first step identified by Villanueva, which is options for traditional housing. He outlined Project Homekey, shared housing, and permanent housing vouchers as resources for people living on the Boardwalk and requested $5 million from the LA City Council to fund this.

Deedrick said that during LASD’s outreach efforts they have encountered many people who traveled from out of the city or state to live on the Boardwalk. He also said several people have “dual residency”, meaning both a tent on the Boardwalk and a nearby shelter bed where they store their belongings.

“When we address the nomadic travelers and those that have dual residency, you’re looking at 30 to 40 percent of this situation done,” said Deedrick.

Villanueva said that by taking a tolerant attitude towards people living on the Boardwalk, politicians are attracting people to Venice.

“LA Homeless Services Authority themselves said that for every 100 that we house, they are replaced by 120 on the street,” said Villanueva. “The only way to change the math is to regulate public space.”

Bonin has not commented on the idea that people are traveling to be homeless in Venice and remains steadfast in his “housing, not handcuffs” approach.

“The ‘Venice Beach Encampment to Home’ program will not be led by law enforcement, nor driven by threats of arrest or incarceration,” said Bonin in his plan announcement. “We will offer what works: housing, with counseling, or mental health services, substance abuse recovery services, and anything else needed to successfully transition people into housing.”

Both officials have much at stake in this fraught political battlefield, which is making national and international headlines.

Bonin faces a recall threat from a coalition of frustrated constituents who say he is unresponsive to their calls and responsible for the spike in violent crime, fires, and homelessness across Venice.

Villanueva faces an official call to resign from the LA County Democrats and the County’s Civilian Oversight Commission, while his department is being investigated by the state due to allegations of excessive force.

The outcome of their skirmish over this 2 mile strip of beach could prove a defining moment for the future of both elected officials’ careers.

Clara@smdp.com