Economics/Class Relations

Living on Venice Beach: Homelessness, Desperation and Community

Very Latin America-like in terms of the rising poverty levels.

By Lexie Harrison-Cripps and Eric Pape, Main and Capital

For generations, a carnival-like spectacle has helped draw millions of visitors to the soft sands of Venice Beach — a place second only to Disneyland among Southern California’s tourist sites, according to the Venice Chamber of Commerce.

But a year and a half after COVID-19 touched down in California, Venice’s rough edges are feeling, well, a little rougher — especially to new tenants and homeowners who pay some of the highest rents and housing costs per square foot in the Southland.

People spending millions on nearby homes and stylish offices are often aghast at sporadic violence, visible drug use and the sprawling unhoused masses around them. And they haven’t been alone as the number of robbers and aggravated assaults surged more than 40 percent during the pandemic, according to LAPD data.

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has set a Fourth of July deadline for people living on the street to accept services or move away. Otherwise, he says, they will be arrested. He’s promised to target people who are not from California — he wants them to go back to where they came from — and insists that they make up an outsized portion of the unhoused population.

Such points of conflict are not particularly new to Venice, even if there is a question of scale as Los Angeles emerges from the worst of the pandemic and heads into what may be a long, hot summer.

A bohemian spirit of coexistence has long reigned on the two-and-a-half-mile pedestrian Ocean Front Walk and the neighborhood around it. The area, launched as a seaside resort in 1904, has been steeped in counterculture since the 1960s. It is hard to think of another oceanfront where Beat poets, street activists and Rastafarians intersected with skate culture, flamboyant weightlifters and trash-talking basketball players. Vietnam War and Iraq War veterans have long wandered among or slept on the ground near curious Angelenos and wide-eyed Midwestern tourists.

In the 1980s, homelessness increased, fueled by the federal government’s closure of psychiatric hospitals, and many former patients ended up on or around the beach, where they often found a degree of acceptance in the mild weather and within the post-hippie vibe. And other people from around the country followed.

Some inherent tensions, like the clouds of marijuana, have been there for decades, and they are part of what draws visitors to the area.


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