For low-income seniors, the opportunity to have subsidized supportive housing right on Ocean Front Walk seemed like a dream come true, but in recent years it has become a nightmare.

Residents of the Adda & Paul Safran Senior Housing Center in Venice are asking the City of LA to provide more attention to the people living in encampments around their building. 

On July 7, eighteen seniors co-signed a letter to Los Angeles City and County officials and agencies that share responsibility for the area. The letter was submitted by the Friends of the Venice Boardwalk, a coalition of community members whose mission is to ensure fair, safe, and equitable access to the Boardwalk. 

The senior center is located just a few blocks from the Santa Monica border at Ocean Front Walk and Navy St. Most of the residents have lived there for several years, and due to their fixed incomes and the high cost of regional housing, would be hard pressed to find a different living situation. 

During the pandemic their quality of life took a precipitous decline as the threat of COVID-19 and safety concerns stemming from the proliferation of encampments on the Boardwalk left many of the seniors stranded in their apartments. 

The problems with public safety and homelessness peaked on the Boardwalk in the summer of 2021, when following the relaxing of anti-camping rules during the pandemic, more than two hundred people camped on the Boardwalk. This led to a myriad of issues including fires, pollution, and an uptick in crime.

In July 2021, with a $5 million budget, CD-11 Councilman Mike Bonin worked with the Saint Joseph’s Center to move around 200 individuals off of the Boardwalk and onto a pathway towards permanent housing. Friends of the Venice Boardwalk played an important role in drawing attention to the crisis and bringing LA Recreation and Parks, LA City, and LA County together to create a plan for action.

For the seniors, however, the issues never fully went away and have been worsening in recent months as several homeless individuals, who residents say experience severe mental health issues, have intermittently set up camp directly by the building. 

“I’ve lived here seven years. It’s getting worse, much worse,” said Marlene Sadan, 84, adding that she was very grateful for the housing intervention last summer, which drastically decreased the number of people on the Boardwalk.

“Now they are coming back. A lot of them are right on the sand, right on the beach, but I still have a couple that are right under my window,” said Sadan.

Attention was given to the area during a July 8 targeted outreach effort by the Saint Joseph’s Center.

“After receiving reports of concern from community members, the Center prioritized this space during their Thursday late night/Friday early morning effort on July 8. Members of the outreach team found two individuals in the area with their belongings. They were offered services, but have not yet accepted. St. Joseph Center will continue to engage them in an effort to get these unhoused neighbors into housing,” said a representative for Saint Joseph’s.

Residents that they continue to be impacted by the nearby homeless individuals.

“I had the most horrific night. I didn’t sleep overnight because they were yelling and screaming. There’s this one woman, she comes around here every so often, and she screams like she’s insane and in pain, and the swearing and the cussing… it’s just a nightmare” said Sadan, later adding, “I wish they would find a place for them to relocate and also they need to go the mental health hospital, oh my god, there’s so many mentally ill people down here.”

Friends of the Venice Boardwalk is seeking to advocate on behalf of the seniors and have been encouraging them to encampments with 311 requests, which members believe was part of the reason the area was addressed on July 8. 

The July 7 letter was sent to representatives from CD-11, the Mayor’s Office, the County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, and Parks and Recreation. The only response Friends of the Venice Boardwalk received came from the President & CEO of Saint Joseph’s, Va Lecia Adams Kellum, who said she would follow up with outreach. 

An additional motivation for the letter is the upcoming reopening of the BAR Center at the Beach, which is a senior community center located next door to the senior housing facility. Friends of the Venice Boardwalk are hoping to see the immediate area free of encampments by the time seniors start utilizing the free programs and services in the coming weeks. 

“It is clear that you [government officials] don’t care about certain members of the public. It is clear in your lack of action, that you do not prioritize the elderly, you do not prioritize equitable use,” said Cari Bjelajac, Friends of the Venice Boardwalk member. “That’s why we put that letter together because it just became so absurd that these people, in the last years of their lives, with this new beautiful building built for them, felt too scared to walk literally 10 feet.”

The office of CD-11 City Councilman Mike Bonin declined to comment for this story.