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Venice Beach, from an oasis for millionaires to a homeless town

"Whether on the beach, in the canals or on submerged land, prepare yourself for a truly unusual sensory experience." The tenth edition of Lonely Planet, the quintessential guide for American "travellers", presented Venice Beach in 2018, as one of the "jewels" lined up on the coast of Los Angeles. Scooters, "string bikini", beach volleyball. Sea and sun, of course.

However, for some months the scenario has been that of a refugee camp. A stretch of battered tents, rags, carts, broken chairs and couches, cots, worn mattresses stretches for a few miles on the beach leading to Santa Monica. There are practically no toilets, as the stench concentrated in the makeshift open-air toilets unequivocally attests.

It is the invasion of the homeless. Many African Americans, many very young. All adrift. They came from all corners of the United States, drawn by the warm weather and the soft line taken by Venice constituency chief Mike Bonin, a Democrat close to radical left positions. No filters, no restrictions. In recent months, anyone has been able to pitch a tent in the Venice arena, or park the trailer, three or four blocks away. Result: in the small town there are now at least 2,000 homeless people. There are those who raise it to 4,000. The quality of life has rapidly plummeted, as reported by Soledad Ursua, a business consultant, and Chie Lunn, a teacher, but above all by members of the municipal committee that supports the Venice city council.

Lunn notes: "I'm a Democrat activist, I've always dealt with homeless people, drug addicts or people with mental disorders. My mother died of an overdose. I know this world, but what we are seeing here in Venice goes beyond all limits. ... It's simply unsustainable. We are in a situation of constant insecurity, if not danger. Not to mention hygienic conditions."

Soledad Ursua adds: “Basically we are forced to live in a camp too, without protection. Crime is increasing in a tumultuous way. We asked the Los Angeles Police Department for information. As of July 3, 2021, robberies had increased 150% compared to the same period last year, burglaries are 93%, armed robberies are 55% I would like to point out that at least 50% of all these episodes involve people homeless, who are often the same victims".

Venice Beach, de un oasis para millonarios a un pueblo sin hogar

Venice is a suburb with different social stratifications. There are villas with sea views that are worth a few million dollars, but also condominiums for the middle class, where a two-bedroom apartment costs around $800,000. Prices are now going down. Many residents, Lunn and Ursua confirm, are leaving.

The problem also affects other neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The center of the financial district, downtown, has long been a no man's land. You just have to enter Skid Row, the narrow neighborhood between Little Tokyo and the trendy Art District. The sidewalks are covered by hundreds of meters of sheets and small tents, from which mattresses and some radios emerge. It's not just Venice. And it's not just Councilman Mike Bonin. The homeless crisis directly questions the figure of Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti, 50 years old. But the mayor is out. On July 9, Joe Biden appointed him ambassador to India. If the appointment is confirmed by the Senate, elections will be called or the city council will appoint an interim mayor.

In any case, there will be a power vacuum for some time. On security matters, Garcetti has delegated a lot, perhaps too much, to the heads of the 15 administrative districts into which Los Angeles is divided. Traditional liberal tolerance, however, has produced something of a catastrophe for public order, disorienting even the most progressive voters. On the streets of the Californian megalopolis there are about 41,000 people, according to estimates by the Social Services Agency.

The question now is: does democratic and progressive politics have the capacity to govern such a complicated phenomenon? And above all, offer a viable alternative to the "zero tolerance" strategy? Attention, because there are not only the Trumpians. Santa Monica's Democratic mayor, Kevin McKeown, has strictly prohibited any "unauthorized parking on public lands," effectively reducing his share of homeless people to Venice residents.

Here Mike Bonin, 54, has enjoyed a broad consensus since 2013. In the last election, in 2017, he won with more than 70% of the vote. On June 22 he presented the "plan on the homeless in Venice." The idea is to offer temporary housing. At the moment there are 200 available. But where will the other thousands of homeless people go? Now they will be gradually "removed" from the beach. And so? Nobody knows. There are also paradoxical effects. The Venice District prohibits drug use in public housing. Bonin then came up with the "dual residence" formula. Drug addicts housed in shelters will also be able to maintain their "residence" on the street. Where they will continue to take drugs, hoping that someone will take care of them.

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