From the Archives: Influx of homeless angers Venice residents

In 1987, the number of homeless people living on the beaches in Venice soared. On Aug. 9, 1987, staff writer George Stine reported in a front page Los Angeles Times story:

Angry Venice Beach residents and merchants, alarmed at an influx of homeless — some drawn by free food and more tolerant law enforcement, others rousted by the crackdown on downtown's Skid Row — are demanding tougher policing and accusing City Hall of official neglect.

A group of neighbors who charge that the police have adopted a "hands-off" policy toward the homeless — a charge the police deny — gathered 1,000 signatures on a three-page open letter in less than a month.

"The local police ... have been told not to do anything," the letter says. " ... These people know that the police have a 'hands-off' policy ... and are taking full advantage of it. Problems in Venice have been neglected by the City of Los Angeles for years."

Spurred by community outrage, an emergency task force of officials, residents and homeless has been meeting since July 9 and will make recommendations Thursday. City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose district includes Venice, refused to discuss the problems caused by the homeless in the Venice area. However, an aide said Friday that the councilwoman will set up her own study group within two weeks.

The chairwoman of the Venice Homeless Task Force, Mary Ann Hutchison, said that 5,000 homeless live on or near the beach in Venice and Santa Monica.

"The situation on Venice Beach is the worst I have ever seen it," said Mary Clare Molidor, the supervising Los Angeles deputy city attorney for the Westside and chairman of the criminal law enforcement subcommittee of the Venice task force.

"The problem has reached the point where something has to be done," she said. "You cannot look the other way."

Homeless people have lived on Venice Beach for several years, but the crisis atmosphere stems from the arrival within the last six months of hundreds of homeless who have been flocking to the more tolerant atmosphere on the strand, according to officials and residents.

Susan Chevalier, an organizer of the petition campaign, said some vagrants are coming from the downtown area "to a more inviting place. The recognition that this is an inviting place is attracting them from other parts of the city also. Tent City has rules and regulations and there are none here."

Doc, a retired physician who gives away food on the beach on weekends in tandem with the St. Joseph's Center, which provides meals during the week, estimated that the number of homeless people on Venice Beach has doubled in the last 3 1/2 months.

"We have had an increase because they are chased out of downtown," he said. "That is what they tell us."….

The full story by George Stein: Homeless Flock to Beach, Angering Venice Residents is online.

The Los Angeles City Council passed a new ordinance — sponsored by City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter — banning overnight camping on beaches. In January 1988, the law went into effect.

A story in the Jan. 21, 1988, Los Angeles Times reported that, “The one-two punch this week of a winter storm and a new law that bans overnight camping on the beach sent about 150 transients packing to temporary shelters, cheap motels and, in some cases, the streets.”

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

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