Hundreds of area residents jammed an overheated meeting hall Thursday night to hear a report on the homeless living near Venice Beach that called for more shelters, more police and tougher law enforcement.
"Help the Needy, Heal the Nutty, Nail the Naughty," read a sign raised by Diana Hobson, a Venice resident since 1976.
The report of an emergency task force of the Venice Town Council was released as community fears about a new wave of vagrants became the focus of intense public attention and official concern.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who both represent the Venice area, have been vocal about their concern on the issue this week.
Galanter on the Beach
Galanter went to the Rose Avenue parking lot on the beach Thursday morning, where hundreds of homeless line up every day for free food, to announce that she would hold hearings on the subject in September.
Dana's office was active earlier in the week, making sure agencies working with the homeless urge them to get the help they need--and get off the beach.
Merchants on Ocean Front reported an increased police presence by mid-week as well.
At Thursday night's meeting in the old Venice City Hall, the recommendations for tougher law enforcement drew loud cheers from the crowd, which appeared to contain few homeless people.
Jack Hoffmann, co-chairman of the Venice Homeless Task Force's criminal justice subcommittee, said that "a lot of the homeless are criminals. . . . A lot of this group are well known to all of us." He said police resources are stretched too thin.
"We're not saying they're not doing their job," he said. "These guys are overworked."
Another member of the subcommittee, Sam Joseph, owner of the On the Waterfront restaurant, said in an interview that the number of police assigned to the Venice Beach area should be doubled.
The report, noting that criminal prosecution is futile for offenses stemming from the condition of being homeless, insisted that the police "target for arrest and prosecution" people engaging in the offenses generating the bulk of complaints--vandalism, assault and battery, theft, littering, trespassing, drinking in public, disturbing the peace, weapons offenses and drug violations.
The report also said the Police Department should extend the hours of the Venice Beach substation and put officers on foot patrols to "become familiar with the Venice Beach population."
The task force presented statistics on the size of the homeless population on or near Venice Beach. Putting together federal, state and city statistics, task force chairwoman Mary Ann Hutchison said 2,000 homeless people live in Venice and another 2,000 to 3,000 live in Santa Monica.
A member of the task force patrolled the beach from the Venice Pier to Navy Street at 3 a.m. for five days in July, counting the number sleeping on the beach. The average was 226.
Conversion of Pavilion
Hutchison presented a recommendation that the Venice Pavilion be converted into a shelter for the homeless that would house up to 100 and involve them in a "tightly run" program of job training and mental health counseling.
The suggestion that the Pavilion be used as a shelter was greeted with loud boos.
She said people who "graduated" from the shelter program would move on to live in 10 mobile homes that would have room for up to 80 people. Additional homeless on the beach could occupy now-vacant beds in county shelters elsewhere, she said.
The idea is to get the existing group of more than 200 people off the beach, she said. Hutchison said roving teams of counselors would accost new groups of vagrants moving onto the beach during the day and tell them they would "get busted" if they stayed the night.
In addition to the problem of people sleeping on the beach, the report also said many vagrants sleep in cars on Venice streets, in some areas occupying half of all parking spaces.
Tougher Approach Sought
Galanter's approach, which stressed the need for long-term solutions, drew criticism from some who had circulated a petition calling for tougher law enforcement.
"Disappointing," Joseph said of Galanter's approach. "Everybody says she is a one-termer unless she gets behind the people who elected her and the beach people didn't elect her."
One of the few homeless beach people attending the meeting was Ken Sheddrick, 22, who has lived on the beach for three years. He said he was unhappy with the task force recommendations.
"They are going to kick me off the beach," he said. "It is not right."