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by Spirit of Venice Wednesday, Feb. 07, 2007 at 12:19 PM

A Call for Compassion and Reason

homelessonbench.jpg, image/jpeg, 140x110

Here, in Venice, we have a tradition of championing the rights of poor people, as in 1965 when the City of Los Angeles tore down one third of Venice's 1600 structures in an attempt to get rid of the recalcitrant hippie population: “They were stopped in court by the NAACP and the Peace and Freedom Party, who organized to protect the poor. The city's dream of building high rise hotels and apartments like Miami Beach was thwarted. Venice looked like it was bombed during World War 2 as little was rebuilt during the next decade.” (Wikipedia)

And, throughout the 70s, when the then Venice Town Council, in direct contrast to our present Venice Neighborhood Council: “felt that the poor had just as much right to live in Venice as the rich people who were buying property to develop. They realized that rapidly rising property values were on a collision course with the community's entrenched low-income population. The Venice Town Council's goal was to delay or at least scale down any project that might affect surrounding property values and the rents landlords charged.”

Then, during the 80s and 90s: “low-income housing advocates feared that the demise of project-based Section 8 housing would be catastrophic. L.A. had 30 landlords buy out of Section 8 mortgages. ‘Venice is one of the last places in the country where low-income people can live by the beach,’ said Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival in L.A. ‘We’re just barely holding on to HUD-assisted housing there. But soon it will all be over and become condo conversions. In general it’s a bleak picture. The policies that have been enacted and the direction we’re heading seem to spell disaster for low-income people.’ People displaced from public housing and Section 8 added even more strain to the already tight affordable-housing markets. And their displacement from gentrifiable areas doubly helped the gentrifiers. Not only were Section 8 and public-housing units cleared for market rate units, but the removal of the undesirable poor residents instantly made the neighborhood ‘better’ and more attractive to wealthy residents.” (LIP Magazine)

In keeping with its traditional compassionate values, Venice has served its homeless citizens by means of a variety of agencies and churches like St. Joseph’s Center, Bible Tabernacle, Didi Hirsch and others over the past 30 years or more. While some members of the local residential community have made this possible, NIMBY-ism (Not In My Back Yard) has prevailed and services have been limited. Now, as the City of L.A. moves forward with its plans to gentrify Venice, upscale development is given the ‘green light’ by the City-backed Venice Neighborhood Council, headed up by Republican president, Dede Audet. Subsequently, the homeless and St. Joseph’s center are being asked to ‘move on’ - in order to maintain the “integrity” of the community while, at the same time, presumably, allowing property prices (which have leveled off and may be in decline) to stabilize.

A flyer distributed by SONIC (Save Our Neighborhood’s Integrity Committee) suggests that both St. Joseph’s Center and their unfortunate clients be relocated to a “suitable location in an industrial area” - thus, presumably, solving the problem. In their flyer they also refer to: “the recent proliferation of 7 medical marijuana stores, 2 methadone clinics, needle exchange, 3 notorious liquor stores and chronic prostitution” as somehow inextricably entwined with the new proposed St. Joseph’s Drop-In Day center. Which leads me to believe that: a) this SONIC group have a negative, dispassionate view of their homeless brothers and sisters and b) are naïve to believe that the problem can be dealt with somewhere else.

As we live in a predominantly Christian society, presided over by the notorious ‘born-again Christian’, Bush, would it not be more “Christian-like” to treat our homeless citizens with greater compassion? ‘There, but for the Grace of God go I?’ Rather than condemning our homeless brothers and sisters to an industrial wasteland, would it not be the ‘Christian’ thing-to-do to provide more shelters and services in the very areas where they are most needed? Venice is one such area. Owing to exorbitant property and rental prices over the past decade, poor people have been squeezed out of their homes onto the streets. Not all the homeless in Venice come from outside the area, many of them were housed here until they could no longer afford the rents or their building was sold out to condo-conversion.

I advocate that we-the-people of Venice face the problem head-on with reasonable and compassionate solutions rather than segregation of the homeless populace. For instance, an adequate homeless ‘shelter’ is long overdue in our community. St. Josephs’ and the Bible Tabernacle have valiantly carried on, all these years, providing short-term ‘band-aid’ solutions to a long-term chronic disease. NIMBY-ism has obstructed the development of a more comprehensive, compassionate solution – hence we have a build-up of chronic homeless cases that have never received adequate treatment. Sending these cases to a Drop-In Day Center in the middle of an industrial park will not serve either the afflicted or the affected.

Homelessness cannot be swept under the rug and made to disappear. However much you may be repelled by those unfortunates; and however much you tremble at the thought of your property values plummeting; I recommend, for the sake of your own ‘integrity’, that you find compassion and empathy in your heart. Not all homeless people are drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals or prostitutes and it is unfair to dispose of them by assuming that they are. The ‘Christian’ thing to do is to strengthen your hearts and minds to the possibility of integrating those less fortunate back into the fabric of our society by embracing the problems with compassionate solutions.

“There, but for the Grace of God, go I”


Video: (Venice) LAPD and the Homeless - (17:05) Related stories: Rousting of skid row homeless puts strain on surrounding areas

Food For Thought
homeless people i know don't want to deal with being in the 'system', even shelters. it takes too much's a day to day suffering though and even if it wasn't drugs or alcohol that brought them low, most people are stuck and the vagrancy begins to affect your mind. many of them have a screw loose, but half of them at least are just sick of hasseling and have some serious resentments towards life. they discover that just like other animals, god provides. but offer them a room without strings attached and they all would prefer the 'four walls a free man makes' (persian proverb) enough.

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