If you follow Venice Blvd. east from Venice Beach, California for a few miles, you enter the neighborhood of Mar Vista, a residential suburb of Los Angeles. At the spot where the 405 freeway passes over Venice Blvd. there is a homeless encampment, a bunch of people living in tents under the freeway. Last week, someone stopped their car near the camp, leaned out and shot at a homeless man on the sidewalk. He was grazed by the bullet but not seriously injured. The whole incident was captured by a security camera on the auto repair shop across the street. Police are still looking for the shooter.
This isn’t the first time violence has broken out at the homeless camp. Last summer two men stopped a car and fired multiple shots at someone living in the camp. It wasn’t a random act. Police believe they were targeting someone.
CBS Los Angeles reports people who live in the neighborhood are extremely frustrated. It’s not just the violence, it’s the drug abuse, crime, and filth which comes along with the camp. One woman living nearby said she has had to ask people to leave her property. “They’re doing drugs with a needle in their hand or their foot and, you know, they’re defecating in front of our cars,” she tells CBS.
Roman Samiley, who lives about 100 yards from the tent camp told NBC 4, “I don’t know how to answer my kid when she says ‘Daddy, I don’t feel safe here; I do not want to live here anymore.'” While NBC was filming its interview with Samiley, a homeless person passed out on the sidewalk across the street.
That the problem is essentially political is emphasized by the fact that one side of Venice Blvd. is part of Los Angeles (the one with all the tents beneath the underpass) but the other side of Venice Blvd. is Culver City. There are no tents pitched on the Culver City side of the street. When someone tries to set one up, police come by and tell them to move along. NBC 4 saw it happen while reporting on this story. But in Los Angeles, laws against putting up a tent are not enforced.
The multiple reports on this story don’t really explain why LA refuses to enforce laws about camping on sidewalks but I suspect the answer is a decision which the 9th Circuit reached last September. That decision came in response to a case filed by six homeless people in Boise, Idaho who argued it was wrong for the city to issue fines for sleeping outside when they had been turned away from the city’s homeless shelters because they were full. The 9th Circuit agreed and effectively made sleeping on the street legal for anyone who has nowhere else to go.
George Frem, who owns the auto repair shop that captured video of the shooting, is livid about the conditions which are causing his business to decline. In an interview with ABC 7, Frem said, “Unfortunately the City of Angels became the city of zombies.” He can’t understand why this is happening to him and his neighbors. “How do we end up with judges and representatives that work to the opposite of the benefit of the people?” he asked. Here’s the CBS LA report on the shooting and conditions around the camp:
If you’re interested in more, here’s a news report from Portland about the 9th Circuit decision regarding sleeping outdoors. The outcome of all of this seems to be that cities are somewhat limited in what they can do about homeless camps (other than providing free housing to everyone in them). That’s obviously going to be a very expensive proposition for the residents of these cities who aren’t living on the streets.