Ah yes, Venice Beach in California: synonymous with sun, surf, palm trees and, now, homeless people.
In this Los Angeles-area town that has long drawn surfers and tourists, up to 200 tents line the oceanfront.
The area is a jumble of any material that can be used to make a shelter, as well as waste and detritus, with appalling hygiene conditions. Urine’s odor competes with that of suntan lotion.
“I was surprised to see so many homeless people in Venice. I was surprised a few days ago in Hollywood, but here, with all these tents touching each other, these shacks, these tarpaulins, it’s almost like a village” said John Jackson, a visitor from Alabama in the southern United States. Authorities made homeless people living on the beach take down their tents during the day prior to the coronavirus pandemic. However, the rule was suspended by city hall in order to reduce the risk of contagion among people who are already prone to illness.
Homeless people in the Venice area, many of whom have lost access to shelters and free meals as a result of the pandemic, have taken advantage of the health crisis to congregate on the city’s beach.
“The homeless have been a part of Venice folklore since the 1960s or 1970s, but their numbers have exploded in recent years. And they’ve changed as well “said a souvenir shop employee who did not want to be identified. “Previously, many of them were hippies and beach bums who had chosen to live this way.
They are now extremely impoverished. Almost everyone out there is in poor physical and mental health “said this man in his sixties. “I see pain, mental illnesses, drugs, and so on… And it’s been a difficult month for me “Denise Diangelo, a homeless woman living near the beachfront encampment, spoke out. “Sleeping has probably been the most difficult issue for me. To avoid problems, I usually sleep alone by the water, the Pacific Ocean “Diangelo stated. Her only source of protection, she claims, is a beach umbrella. Nearly 2,000 people were recorded as homeless on the streets of Venice just before the pandemic. The numbers have grown steadily.
However, as life returns to normal and tourists return, the beachfront homeless camp is beginning to irritate some and even take on a political bent.
Mike Bonin, a city councilor who advocates for the relocation of the homeless, has found himself at odds with the Los Angeles County sheriff’s office and neighborhood associations who want a much more forceful evacuation of the homeless.
Like many visitors to Los Angeles, Jackson, the Alabama tourist, expressed surprise that “all these people are homeless when California has the reputation of being so rich.”
In terms of GDP, California has the world’s fifth-largest economy. However, it is also one of the poorest states in the United States.
It has the unfortunate distinction of having the nation’s largest homeless population: more than 66,000 in Los Angeles County alone before Covid-19, an increase of nearly 13% from the previous year.
According to the Los Angeles city agency that tries to address homelessness, one of the main reasons for this is a lack of affordable housing in a city where rent is very high.
Rent increased by 65 percent between 2010 and 2020, nearly twice the national average rate of increase. During the same time period, the median Los Angeles household income increased by only 36%. Some organizations are working to provide aid and housing for Venice’s homeless, but this is a difficult task because some of them have been living on the streets for years.
Consider the case of Rodrick Sims, 50, who has been homeless for 15 years. He claimed that his descent began when he divorced.
“I’m at a loss for what to do. I’m hoping they give me a place where I can start learning how to live inside again” he told reporters while eating grapes outside his beach tent.
“I’ll tell you what, once you’re outside, you become feral, like a wild wild man,” Sims explained.