Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who has been besieged with complaints about homeless people in Venice in recent months, is "extremely close" to reaching agreement on a plan to open a 30-bed homeless shelter and social service center in the beach community, The Times has learned.
The center would be located at the corner of Rose Avenue and 3rd Street. Galanter spokesman Rick Ruiz said that the councilwoman hopes to complete plans for a 21,000-square foot homeless facility within the next several weeks.
"We have not worked out all of the details yet, but we're real close," Ruiz said. "We are hoping that there will not be any last-minute snags."
The homeless center would be located on property owned by Public Storage Inc., a Glendale-based company that builds and rents storage facilities.
Galanter and the company have reached a tentative agreement that calls for Galanter to support plans for building a 200,000-square-foot storage facility on the site in return for having part of the facility used for the homeless.
The city would pay Public Storage a nominal rental fee for the space. Ruiz said that the financial details are still being negotiated. Galanter also plans to discuss the idea with area residents before the deal is finalized.
Mark Ryavec, representing Public Storage, said both sides would profit from the plan.
"It's a win-win situation," he said. "It's a done deal except for a few details."
Officials say that the homeless facility may be managed by St. Joseph Center, a nonprofit group that already serves homeless people in Venice. Rhonda Meister, the group's director, said she would welcome the facility.
"If something were to work out, we would have enough space to do what the Venice Homeless Task Force has recommended," Meister said. "We could have a collection of people from mental health, the Veteran's Administration and Social Security in one spot to provide the services that are needed."
Venice reportedly is home to as many as 2,500 vagrants, one of the highest concentrations of homeless people in Los Angeles County. Several hundred of them have set up encampments on the sand.
Meister said the 30-bed homeless shelter clearly would not solve the problem but added that it would be a step in the right direction, since shelter beds are desperately needed.
"It's a beginning approach toward what needs to be done," Meister said. "Anything that will lessen the pressure and the suffering will be good."
"Thirty beds is 30 beds," Ruiz added. "It's 30 people who are off the street. But it's obvious the problem is much bigger than that. We could build 10 of these and it still wouldn't be enough to handle all of the people."
Processing Station Opens
In a related development that could have a broader impact on the problem, a long-awaited homeless processing station also opened in Venice this week.
The station is located near the Venice Pavilion at Ocean Front Walk and Windward Avenue and consists of two large trailers staffed by city and county workers who will provide counseling to homeless people who want to get off of the streets.
Ruiz said the station will remain open for at least two weeks. Afterward, the homeless who remain on the beach will be ordered to leave.
At Monday's opening, dozens of homeless people milled about in the grass in front of the processing station as social workers summoned them in for interviews one at a time.
Those who qualified for general relief were given free taxicab rides to the county's Department of Public Social Services. Others were counseled on employment opportunities and mental health services.
Ruiz said that 60 to 70 homeless people were seen during the first two days.
"What we have tried to do is model this after the operation that was set up during the last two weeks up at the homeless campground in downtown Los Angeles," Ruiz said. "We hope we can take care of a real significant portion of this group of people. . . . But we don't know exactly what to expect."
One of the homeless who showed up at the station on the first day was Herb, 32, who has been living on the beach for six months. Herb, who asked that his last name not be used, said he came to the processing center for a job.
"I'm surprised at how organized this is," Herb said. "When you see that they care this much, it makes you want to do something for yourself."
"I think it's great," said Drew, 33, another homeless person who showed up on Monday. "It gives me an opportunity to plug back into something."
John Nakamatsu from the city's Community Development Department is among those staffing the Venice station. He also worked at the processing station set up in conjunction with the recent closure of the homeless campground on Skid Row. Nakamatsu said the response in Venice is "10 times" better.
"There are a lot of positives to this," Nakamatsu said. "We are going to offer to help as many people as want to be helped."
Mary Lee Gray, an aide to Los Angeles County Supervisor Deane Dana, was also on hand for the opening of the processing station. Gray said that Dana, who has been held accountable for the homeless problem by some Venice residents, will soon release his own set of recommendations. Gray also said that Dana and Galanter recently have met and discussed the issue.
Both sides agreed that they still have not found a long-lasting solution. There remains a severe shortage of shelter beds on the Westside and many homeless people do not qualify for other benefits.
But Gray said that small measures such as the opening of the processing station at least provide some relief.