Tents: While some beach campers remain, most tents have been moved off the sand in the past year. Grace Inez Adams

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva returned to Venice Beach this week to tout the success of his department’s efforts to clear the area of homeless encampments but critics said his celebrations are both undeserved and unwarranted. 

The Venice Boardwalk became a veritable tent city during the pandemic after the health department said individuals who lacked permanent shelter should not be moved from encampments to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The squalid conditions made international headlines and prompted the Sheriff to order the controversial deployment of his deputies inside the City of Los Angeles’ jurisdiction. The decision drew scorn from a variety of officials who said the efforts were little more than a publicity stunt in advance of the election but many residents have credited the Sheriff with prompting action by other agencies. 

Villanueva said the combined effort of his department, the St. Joseph’s Center and other partners have removed more than 300 tents from the Boardwalk in the last year. 

Lt. Jeff Dietrich with the Sheriff’s Homeless Outreach Street Team (HOST) said the results show it’s possible to remove blight and meet the needs of the vulnerable at the same time. 

“Traditional law enforcement does not work here. But what we’ve shown is there is a way to do it,” he said. “There’s no reason that a community should lose their library or lose their park. Then those who are homeless in the community can be helped and they can be held accountable at the same time. So you can satisfy both ends of this without significant arrests and doing all that. It can all be done so homelessness does not affect the community safety.”

While encampments along the sand have vastly decreased, locals say many of the problems have just moved a block inland with a massive expansion of derelict vehicles lining local streets. 

Villanueva said his department has proposed new county rules to handle problem vehicles and urged residents to call into the Sept. 13 Board of Supervisors meeting to advocate for his solution.  

Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Venice, continued his longstanding criticism of the Sheriff’s involvement saying he was taking credit for the work of other agencies. 

“The sheriff is delusional,” he said. “Villanueva huffed and puffed a lot for the cameras, but he didn’t house a single person. With the resources we secured, teams from St Joseph Center and LAHSA did, conducting the largest and most successful place-based homeless housing effort Los Angeles has ever seen. Through our Venice Beach Encampments to Homes program, 213 people moved indoors, and a year later 106 of them are already permanently housed. Enforcement moves tents from one block to another. Homes actually end homelessness.”

Villanueva has had a contentious relationship with other county leaders and said he hoped the November election would bring in leaders willing to work with him. 

“One concern we still have, of course, is elections in November, there’s going to be a new mayor, there’s going to be a new supervisor for the third district, a new council person for this district, CD 11 and whether or not they plan to regulate public space and are they going to use law enforcement, in what capacity, to work as a collaborative effort in this homeless crisis. It remains to be seen but that’s an open-ended question.”

He specifically cited Mayoral Candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso as failing to grasp the scope of the problem caused by people from outside Los Angeles traveling to the area.  

“I’ve been listening and reading about the proposals from both mayoral candidates, Bass and Caruso, and the one issue that still they’re not grasping is the big picture,” he said. “It’s a dynamic problem. And they’re applying very static solutions to the dynamic problem. So if you’re not dealing with the influx, right, well then you’re wasting your time because the problem gets bigger as you’re trying to chase your tail around in  circles.”


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Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...

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