Tents: The Venice Boardwalk has become the center of the local homelessness crisis. Clara Harter

MATTHEW HALL, Daily Press Editor

The Venice homelessness crisis is spilling over into Santa Monica this week with an increase in unhoused individuals setting up on local beaches.

Several agencies that work with the local homeless population have reported more people living on the streets near the south end of the beach in recent days and the spike in homelessness comes as a Los Angeles officials begin to tackle the recently overrun Venice Boardwalk.

Over the past month, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva has mounted a public campaign criticizing Los Angeles officials for allowing the homeless epidemic to reach crisis levels and he promised to clear the Venice beach area by July 4. While Sheriff Deputies haven’t embarked on a large-scale sweep of the beach, signs were posted giving a deadline of July 2 to vacate the area or face consequences.

On June 21, a separate effort by City of Los Angeles agencies began offering additional services to people living on the Venice beach. While the City effort hasn’t threatened arrest for non-compliance Covid era protocols that prevented officials from clearing encampments have expired and the city of Los Angeles has started to implement additional restrictions on public camping.

The result has been a decrease in visible encampments along some parts of the beach and Santa Monica officials have said they are seeing an increase in people entering the city without homes or resources.

“Whatever’s going on this week, there has been a change,” said SMPD Lieutenant Rudy Flores. “For example, this morning we went out and noticed 11 new encampments or tents on the south end of the beach that were not there before.”

He said SMPD has been collaborating with the Sheriff’s office to try to prevent individuals from just moving up the beach and that SMPD officers are working to address new encampments as best they can given Coronavirus-related restrictions.

Existing laws prohibit camping in public spaces and a separate law prohibits tents on the beach if they have closed sides. However, both sections of the code result in misdemeanor penalties which do not automatically allow officers to jail or confiscate property.

According to Flores, an arrest with possible jail penalties is possible for repeated infractions but the process to make an arrest requires repeated contact with the suspect and evidence of living at the site beyond just a shelter.

If an arrest were to be made, Flores said Covid protocols are still in place that prevents suspects from entering the local jail system so the most severe penalty available in the absence of a more severe violation would be a citation. Individuals camping on the beach, or any public property, could face detention if officers found evidence of more serious crime during their interactions.

He said citations, and the constant contact with officers, can still deter camping activity when combined with additional city programs that connect people to services and the inevitable return of stronger enforcement options.

“The goal is outreach, we can help them, we can make the citations go away through a diversion program but they have to sign up for whatever services they may need,” he said.