Neighbors Have Mixed Feelings About New Venice Shelter
After nearly two years of resistance from neighbors -- and even a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles -- a shelter for homeless men, women and youth opened last week on the corner of Pacific and Sunset Avenue in Venice.
City officials inaugurated the "Pacific Sunset" bridge housing facility at an event on Tuesday. "If we do not want people living and dying outdoors, we need to bring them indoors," L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin told Curbed LA.
The new facility occupies half of a previously unused Metro bus lot, a few blocks from the Venice boardwalk and the beach. It's part of Mayor Eric Garcetti's A Bridge Home program and will temporarily house 100 men and women in a giant white tent, and 50 transitional-age youth (18-24) in bungalows.
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Each bed is reserved for a specific person experiencing homelessness in Venice who has been pre-selected by local service providers and homeless outreach workers. Tracking them down has been challenging, said Steve Fiechter, LA Metro Director of People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), which provides services for adults at the shelter.
"Folks don't necessarily stay standing on the street corner exactly where you found them," he said.
Still, as of Monday, 102 people had moved into Pacific Sunset. Fiechter expects the facility to be full by Tuesday evening.
Here's how the shelter works:
- Beds, showers, meals, laundry and medical services are provided.
- Job counseling and 12-step programs are available.
- The site has 24-hour security and management onsite.
- Drugs and alcohol are not allowed on the premises.
- The shelter will operate for a maximum of three years.
- The city will spend additional money to clear and clean up nearby homeless encampments. The public works department has scheduled weekly sidewalk and street cleaning for several blocks around the shelter, beginning March 9.
Despite enthusaism from city officials and new residents of Pacific Sunset, the contentious backstory of the space is still fresh in the minds of Venice residents, some of whom aren't welcoming the new development. "It's a nightmare. If it was something that I really thought was going to help homelessness, golly I'd be all for it," said longtime Venice resident Sunny Tomblin.
Here's how other Venice residents -- including homeless people, renters, and homeowners -- are feeling now that the shelter is open.
GRATEFUL TO BE OFF THE SYNAGOGUE STEPS
One new resident at Pacific Sunset is Rex Archer, who, until last week, was sleeping on the steps of the Mishkon Tephilo Synagogue. He's grateful to now be living at the shelter.
"They said I can stay here for nine months. That's a good way to stack cheese, so to speak," Archer said.
He's hoping to work as a forklift operator again, like he did in Arkansas 20 years ago, to save money for an apartment. Then, he said, his two grandkids can come visit from Northern California. "I can't bring two kids down here just to live on the street to see grandpa," he said. "When I do invite them down, I want to have a place where they can stay."
'I MOVE OUT NEXT MONTH'
While Archer and other residents of Pacific Sunset are settling into their cubicle beds, some nearby renters are getting ready to move out.
"My girlfriend just does not feel safe anymore being around here by herself," said Nick Brown, who lives on a walk street near the shelter. "And from where I live I can literally see [the shelter] through my back window," he said.
In a couple weeks, he and his girlfriend plan to move into a house in Playa Del Rey.
Despite this, generally speaking, Brown supports the shelter -- he thinks there needs to be a better place for homeless people to live instead of outside the nearby Google offices, for example.
"It is a little disappointing to see it go up in an area with such high-value properties that is just starting to come and work its way up," Brown said. "If I was a property owner here I'd be losing my mind. But since I'm a renter I can easily move."
'I'VE WORKED A LIFETIME TO BE HERE'
Some homeowners are deeply upset about the shelter. Sunny Tomblin has lived in her Venice home for more than 40 years and objects to the shelter being located so near. She said she and her neighbors invested time and money in their homes, ultimately making the area an expensive place to live.
"I bought here in '76. It was a ghetto. I could never have afforded to live here so I really resent that the homeless can come here," she said. "I've worked a lifetime to be here."
Tomblin said when she first moved to Venice from Beverly Hills her friends wouldn't visit her because they were concerned about drug use in the neighborhood. "We cleaned this area up," she said. Now, she's worried the shelter will drive people away again.
'I JUST DON'T WANT THAT NEGATIVITY IN MY LIFE'
Not all Venice neighbors oppose the shelter. Alyssa Tucker actually lives on the same street as Tomblin, but she's glad the shelter is up and running.
"I want to get people off the streets 'cause the sidewalks are constantly blocked by people setting up shop," Tucker said, adding that many homeless people are working or trying to find work.
Plus, she said, housing is a better use of the land than leaving the former bus lot vacant.
Tucker is aware that some of her neighbors have different opinions -- she used to read daily complaints about homelessness in a Facebook group for Venice residents. Eventually, she got fed up and left the group.
"I just don't want that negativity in my life every day," she said.