Sheriff criticized for sending homeless team to Venice

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Wave Staff and Wire Reports

VENICE — Several Venice organizations have criticized the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; saying it is calling for the “forced displacement and criminalization of unhoused people” on the boardwalk.

The criticism came after Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva dispatched the sheriff’s department’s Homeless Outreach Services Team to Venice last week, even though Venice is outside his department’s jurisdiction.

“This week, the L.A. County Sheriff and others unfamiliar with Venice and its unhoused residents held press events on the Venice Boardwalk calling for the forced displacement and criminalization of unhoused people in order to ‘clean up’ the boardwalk,” said a statement issued June 11 by the Venice Family Clinic; Grass Roots Neighbors; Safe Place for Youth; Venice Black, Indigenous and People of Color Elders; Venice Community Housing and the Venice Justice Committee.

“Time and time again, this approach has proven to fail in Los Angeles and cause harm to people already dealing with crisis, trauma and the extreme lack of affordable housing across our region and especially on the Westside,” the statement added.

The groups added that the homelessness crisis has been caused by “decades of disinvestment in affordable housing and other critical resources, systemic racism in land-use policies, housing, employment and mass incarceration policies and growing income and wealth inequality.”

The statement called for kindness toward the homeless, local outreach, access to medicine and an investment in permanent housing solutions.

Our collective community will work to provide emergency services, secure, preserve, and build more housing, and stand in solidarity to protect the rights of unhoused folks, and hope that anyone interested in helping alleviate homelessness in Venice and beyond joins the effort from a human-centered, social justice framework,” the statement said.

Villanueva announced June 8 he was sending his homeless outreach services team to Venice “to triage the crisis and develop an action plan to compassionately offer services while employing common sense in the regulation of public space within Los Angeles County.”

Villanueva, who described the work in Venice as a humanitarian mission,” told reporters that deputies would talk to people residing in an encampment at the beach to determine what they are doing to move from being homeless to having a place to stay. He said the homelessness crisis within Los Angeles city limits prompted him to take action.

He also accused City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Venice on the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti of hampering the Los Angeles Police Department in its ability to do its job with regard to encampments.

“I’m not going to blame LAPD whatsoever,” Villanueva said. “I think they can definitely do the job. They’re more than capable, have good leadership. However, if they’re hamstrung by politicians that don’t want them to do their job, well, then they’re left in a very, very bad situation.”

Bonin criticized Villanueva’s efforts calling them “disruptive and counterproductive.”

He tweeted that Villanueva “should leave outreach and housing to the professionals.”

“It’s harmful to strut in and interfere with the work of service providers who are trying to house people, quietly, diligently and in good faith,” Bonin said in his tweet.

Bonin’s response on Twitter attached an interview by Spectrum1’s Kate Cagle with a Vietnam War veteran named Robert, whom Villanueva had cited as a success story of the deputies’ presence in Venice. Robert told Cagle that he was dropped off at the Veteran’s Affairs building by deputies, but had to sleep in his wheelchair overnight after deputies discarded his belongings.

The sheriff’s department responded that it is not responsible for housing people, but that deputies had connected Robert to service providers.

Robert told Cagle that the providers he was put in touch with “had nothing at all …. didn’t know anything about it all. They knew nothing about any housing, nothing about anything.”

Bonin responded on Twitter to Robert’s story, saying “the key to housing people is building trust. It is hard to do that while conducting outreach and casework with cameras in tow, while wearing firearms and while threatening to make arrests.”

The councilman also noted that the Venice Encampment to Home program has housed or sheltered more than three dozen people since beginning its work last month.

Villanueva himself visited the Venice encampment “to view the failures of local politicians in regard to the homeless crisis,” he said.

He told reporters he would like to see the Venice Beach encampment cleared by the Fourth of July holiday.

A statement issued by the sheriff’s department said department’s Homeless Outreach Services Team’s mission is to positively impact the homeless crisis in the county while increasing public safety and preserving the rights and dignity of persons experiencing homelessness.

The statement said the team has earned a reputation for being compassionate, accountable, innovative and bold and had transcended the role of traditional law enforcement while accomplishing its mission with zero use of force.

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