In June and July, it felt like the world’s eyes were trained on the Venice Boardwalk as the Sheriff rolled into town, politicians staged rallies, and news stations swarmed waiting to see whether CD-11 would meet its promise to move over 200 unhoused individuals without making any arrests.
At the center of the hubbub was St. Joseph’s outreach teams, the lead service provider of the “Venice Beach Encampment to Home” program, whose staff had a much quieter presence as they walked around in civilian clothing and routinely responded, to the frustration of many eager reporters, “no comment.”
Their low-profile approach focused only on unhoused individuals and yielded results. Six weeks after the intervention began, the Boardwalk and surrounding area was clear of tents, the pavement sanitized, and vendors and street performers back in strong numbers.
To many local residents — who had for months been complaining about the spiking rates of crime, homelessness, encampment fires and pollution in the area — this rapid shift seemed nothing short of a miracle. To Dr. Va Lecia Adams Kellum, the CEO and president of St. Joseph’s Center, it’s still too early to call the program a success.
“I think it could be a model worthy of replication, but certainly I think the proof is how well we do in housing people in permanent housing,” said Adams Kellum. “I think that is really the litmus test.”
The program worked by giving everyone a temporary housing option and a promise of a permanent place within a rough 6 month timeline. It was spearheaded by CD-11 Councilman Mike Bonin and supported with $5 million in funding from the City of L.A.
As of Sept. 2, St. Joseph’s reported that 185 people were in interim housing, with 106 distributed across five motels, 43 people in the Project Roomkey program at the Cadillac Hotel on Ocean Front Walk, 25 people in a Project Homekey site, eight in the Venice Bridge Home shelter, two in detox programs and one in assisted living. Seven individuals have been permanently housed, including two in shared housing and five who were reunited with family.
Since moving off the Boardwalk, 21 individuals have exited the temporary housing option provided by Saint Joseph’s. This represents a 90 percent housing retention rate. St. Joseph’s is still working with these 21 individuals to connect them to a permanent housing option.
In the coming months, participants will be transitioning from interim to permanent housing through rapid rehousing or emergency housing vouchers, while those with the highest needs will be prioritized for permanent supportive housing, which combines affordable housing with healthcare and supportive services.
So far, 183 individuals have been matched with a permanent housing subsidy resource and are working with a case manager to find an appropriate housing site.
In addition to providing a true path to permanent housing, Adams Kellum said the other key metric of the program’s success is whether the intervention creates enduring change on the Boardwalk.
“I can’t put a fence around the beach, so what we have to do is be very diligent in reaching out to people and supporting people and making sure that we continue the change in culture of folks knowing that Venice Beach really isn’t a space for people to live in the sense of living unsheltered on the sand and Boardwalk,” said Adams Kellum.
Overall, Adams Kellum is pleased with the results so far and said she receives a daily briefing from the LAPD Pacific Division, which typically only reports a handful of tents in the Boardwalk zones that St. Joseph’s cleared.
Adams Kellum is aware that some counts by resident groups, such as the Venice Stakeholders Association, place numbers around the 40 to 50 mark, but has qualms about their accuracy in capturing people living on the Boardwalk.
“If those larger numbers are reported, I don’t believe that it’s necessarily in zones one through five,” she said, referring to the system St. Joseph’s used to map and divide the Boardwalk encampment area. “I also want to say that we’re not counting people walking around with backpacks or people who are utilizing the bathrooms there in the Rose parking lot, we want to make sure that we’re truly counting folks who are unhoused in the area.”
Currently, Saint Joseph’s is focusing on providing supportive services to the 211 former residents of the Boardwalk. They have a wide range of needs from simply regaining forms of identification, to urgent healthcare problems, mental health treatment, job training, and drug addiction treatment.
While St. Joseph’s is the lead service provider, they are working in partnership with several local organizations including PATH, Safe Place for Youth and the Venice Family Clinic, who have all been on board since the start of the Encampment to Home program.
“It definitely took a village and I think it’s something for the Venice community to be proud of,” said Adams Kellum. ‘I think for some, maybe they’re still watching and waiting to see if it’s going to be okay and I hope ultimately it will be something that we’re all celebrating and feeling good about housing so many people who really desperately needed help.”
To learn more about the Encampment to Home Program and the reasons for its timing and format, check out this week’s episode of the “Inside the Daily Press” podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or at smdp.com/pod.