Community, LA County Sheriff clash on Venice boardwalk over housing the homeless

A group of people clashed with Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Thursday over a housing controversy for a veteran living in the encampment along Venice Beach.

On Tuesday, deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department walked along the beach, aiming to connect encampment residents with housing options after Sheriff Villanueva decided to send deputies to Venice to help with the homeless crisis, despite the area being in LAPD's jurisdiction.

The only unhoused resident who accepted assistance on Tuesday was a veteran named Robert, who has a medical condition.

"He agreed to go to services. He expressed he had a medical problem and he wanted help with it. We offered to take him to the VA to assist with that issue. We ordered an ambulance but they had over an hour ETA to get here [to Venice Beach]," said Sgt. George Suarez from LASD.

Suarez said deputies transported Robert and some of his belongings to the VA in a government vehicle. He said Robert did not accept the housing offered by the VA. 

"He was offered housing there at the VA. He refused. He wanted to be close to his friends [living in the Venice encampment] and be able to come have coffee. Robert was telling me, 'Unless you have beachfront property, I'm not gonna go,'" said Suarez.

Community members speaking on behalf of Robert said Robert was not offered help at the VA, and instead slept outside of the facility for the night and then returned to Venice Beach the next day. It led to controversy and community members berating Sheriff Villanueva and his deputies for "lying" to Robert. 

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Suarez said Robert's case is an example of some of the many challenges with housing people. 

"They're offered services. They'll oftentimes tell us, ‘Yes,’ and then they begin to give us their requirements, pet requirements or 'I don't like that place,'" said Suarez.

Reverend Andy Bales from Union Rescue Mission, also spoke to FOX 11 about the housing challenges.

"It takes constant outreach, building a relationship, sticking to it, gaining trust and then offering an array of choices and it's going to be hard work and it's going to take time," said Bales.

Bales said it is important to "restore order" as soon as possible.

"You have to restore order. We cannot let people devastated by homelessness, traumatized by homeless, make all of our decisions for us. We need to respect them and love them but we can't let them gain access and take over all the public spaces," said Bales.

Bales believes Sheriff Villanueva is not overstepping his bounds, going into LAPD's jurisdiction, and that it's the right move.

"The Sheriff is the top law enforcement authority in the county. He is not overstepping his bounds. I commend the Sheriff for having at least a plan. I do believe he needs a bigger, broader network for cooperation," said Bales.

Deputies said Robert was later connected to a homeless shelter that is near the beach, and he is now living there.