LOS ANGELES - "It’s so much better!"
That was the sentiment we heard again and again from people on the Venice Beach Ocean Walk area.
Restaurants were packed with tourists, who were also checking in pretty much nonstop into local boutique hotels. Sun lovers stretched out on towels on the sand, while lifeguards kept an eye out for swimmers getting caught in rip currents. The artists selling their wares slid next to street performers, fortune tellers and henna artists, coaxing walking visitors to stop.
What was obvious in its absence was the plethora of tents and encampments that once took over the area. There is still a handful of tents near the bathroom area, but both the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department have managed to keep the majority of people from living there.
From the end of June through July of this year, a Los Angeles city program, "Encampments to Homes," teamed up with the nonprofit, St. Josephs Center, to house hundreds of people living on the boardwalk. The agency’s CEO says they engaged with more than 300 people, of which 213 agreed to some sort of service. About 185 were placed into some kind of housing, around 21 people first accepted shelter but returned to the streets.
That worries area residents and business people, who are afraid the city will allow the homeless to set up camps again.
"That is not the plan," said one LASD deputy helping tourists on the boardwalk.
He was not at liberty to talk on the record, but did say that there are no plans to stop the beach patrols, which is confirmed by both LASD and LAPD.
At the same time, the tapestry of Venice’s unique vibe has always included an element of seediness, hippies, artists and homeless people. No one we talked to wanted to change that. Those who live and work in Venice (and many a tourist) just don’t want to be afraid to come to the landmark beach area, which recently has turned into a nightmare, not only for law enforcement, but the fire department responding to fires from heating units in tents.
"It was dangerous for the homeless, as well as the residents," says the deputy, who is used to respond to beatings and other attacks, almost on an hourly basis before the cleanups began. "No one wins if we let it go back to that."