Venice residents couldn’t believe their eyes on Friday morning, Jan. 13, as they traveled to well-known The Rose restaurant for a community meeting with Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and city councilmember Traci Park: the streets long lined with trash, tents and human suffering were miraculously clear.
The transformation of these streets was no divine intervention, but the result of Bass’s new “Inside Safe” initiative, an effort to clear encampments by moving the homeless safely indoors.
Standing with Bass and Park was Ambassador Susan Rice, President Biden’s domestic policy advisor, who cited Biden’s goal to cut homelessness in the U.S. by 25% in two years. Rice told those gathered in Venice, “I have said to the administration that if the goal was to reduce homelessness by 25% in the United States, the place to begin is the epicenter,” referring to L.A.
Bass and Councilmember Park have led a push to clean up a sprawling homeless encampment in Venice and move people indoors, a key change from the policies set by previous City Council District 11 Councilmember Mike Bonin.
The Inside Safe intervention in Venice began Jan. 4 at an encampment that encompassed four streets. Since then, the initiative has managed to connect almost 100 unhoused individuals with shelter, said Jamie Paige, communications deputy for Traci Park.
“The people on the streets have been suffering and the people who have to live or work near the encampments have been suffering,” Bass said at Friday’s press conference and community celebration. “So I am happy to say that we were able to move a number of people into housing, and this work is going to continue.”
Inside Safe interventions have also been carried out in Hollywood, and Bass intends to scale up the program citywide.
U.S. Domestic Policy Advisor Susan Rice and L.A. Mayor Karen Bass meet with Venice residents at a celebration of the “Inside Safe” program, an initiative to safely shelter people now living in encampments. (Photo by Clara Harter, LA Daily News/SCNG)
While Bass, Rice and Park met with residents, a block away the last remaining encampment dwellers were packing up their belongings and moving into placements.
“This is a magical moment. It’s so hard out here, I’m not conditioned for this, I’m getting older,” said Joe Dawson, 52, who has been homeless since 2004 and is moving into a motel with his partner.
“People are coming together to get something done and I believe in it,” he added.
Joe Dawson, 52, and his partner, pack up their belongings on 2nd Street in Venice as they prepare to move into a motel via Mayor Karen Bass’s “Inside Safe” program. (Photo by Clara Harter, LA Daily News/SCNG)
Dawson is optimistic that Inside Safe will lead to the end of his homelessness for once and for all, he said. He hopes to be connected to an alcohol addiction recovery program and dreams of one day working for the City of L.A. to help others experiencing homelessness.
The new Inside Safe program works by convincing unhoused residents to voluntarily accept temporary housing placements — and either surrender their excess belongings or place them in storage. It is a collective effort of many city and county organizations — including LAHSA, LAPD and L.A. City Sanitation — as well as homeless service providers including St. Joseph’s Center, Urban Alchemy and PATH.
The long-term goal is to connect people to permanent housing. But there is a dire shortage of such units across the city — something Bass has also made a priority. She wants to address the shortage by converting hotels to housing, and also by pursuing master leases of buildings to provide shelter to the homeless.
“We know that in Los Angeles, we need to build hundreds of thousands of units,” said Bass. “We know we need more affordable housing and housing for people who are suffering from a variety of (issues). … But in the meantime, we need to get people off the street and into housing.”
Venice resident Christina Tellock was brought to tears by the sight of the cleared streets.
“Seeing the suffering on a daily basis, watching the fighting, watching the destruction of the human spirit, it just wears on your soul,” she said.
Tellock takes care of her sick mother and the encampment outside their home has been a source of stress for years.
“I’ve been scared, so scared, trying to protect my mom,” said Tellock. “Now I can take her outside for a walk safely in her own neighborhood.”
Councilmember Park ran on a campaign pledge of clearing Venice’s streets and connecting unhoused individuals to housing. She expressed pride in delivering on that promise just a few weeks into her first term in elected office.
“Our tiny community of 3.3 square miles has the largest concentration of unhoused individuals outside of Skid Row,” Park said of Venice, at the community celebration and press event. “Being able to partner with the Mmyor and St. Joseph’s Center to support our agencies to get people off the streets and into into safe settings and connected to services has been incredibly rewarding and gratifying.”
Community members in attendance at Friday’s celebration were ecstatic, toting campaign-like posters saying “Bass + Park = Progress,” “Team Bass,” “Team Park,” and “Thank you all, for helping everyone.”
Council District 11 Councilmember Traci Park meets with Venice residents as she celebrates the early successes of Inside Safe, a program to safely shelter those living in encampments (Photo by Clara Harter, LA Daily News/SCNG)
Relations between Venice residents and former Councilmember Bonin were sometimes fraught, with many of them accusing him of having a tolerant attitude towards encampments and not doing enough to move people off the streets. Others praised his progressive values and refusal to enforce the city’s anti-camping laws.
Fueled by the growing homeless encampments in his district, Bonin was targeted for recall and narrowly survived that effort in January 2022. He chose to not run for reelection in November 2022.
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“For more than three years and in some cases even longer, we have been asking our city for help and got nowhere — but in just over three weeks, they (Bass and Park) stepped up,” said resident Connie Brooks. “It’s a tremendous weight off our community to see people getting housing and services instead of being left outside on our sidewalks.”
While residents at the celebration were excited by the progress being made, some are anxious to see whether the streets remain clean.
Resident Elizabeth Clay worked with the city to clear an encampment at Venice’s Centennial Park in June 2022, only to see a new encampment pop up down the street a few weeks later. She hopes history doesn’t repeat itself with the Inside Safe intervention.
“I’m worried about the narrative that Venice is a place you can come to do whatever you want in,” Clay said. “Sometimes there’s opportunistic folks that move into the area, but by and large, I think everybody here wanted to celebrate the fact that the people who really needed help got help.”
(Linh Tat contributed reporting to this article)