Venice neighborhood group raises $200K to fight homeless shelter

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A group of Venice residents opposed to plans for a 154-bed homeless shelter in the beachside neighborhood are gearing up for an expensive legal fight.

Mark Ryavec, president of the Venice Stakeholders Association, a neighborhood group that has repeatedlychallenged the city’s homelessness policies in the area, says the organization has raised $200,000 to pay for lawsuits challenging plans for the shelter.

Ryavec tells Curbed the donations have come from more than 100 individual donors, many of whom who live in northwest Venice—where the shelter is set to rise from the site of a former bus lot owned by Metro.

In January, VSA announced on its website that it had raised $100,000 for the legal battle, and shortly after sued the city of Los Angeles and the California Coastal Commission over the bridge housing project. Last month, the organization filed a separate lawsuit against Metro after the transit agency approved a lease agreement allowing the city to move forward with construction.

The lawsuits allege that local officials flouted environmental law when approving the shelter, which is part of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s A Bridge Home program. Announced last year, the program is aimed at providing emergency housing for homeless residents while the city awaits construction of permanent homes funded through 2016’s Measure HHH ballot initiative.

The temporary shelters were meant to be erected quickly in neighborhoods around the city, but the VSA lawsuits maintain that officials skipped out on requirements that “adverse impacts” of construction projects be fully studied prior to approval.

Specifically, the suit alleges that the shelter will “act as a magnet for homeless individuals and encampments,” resulting in increased “noise, litter, discharge of sewage,” and impacts to “public safety.”

At an October town hall, Garcetti and City Councilmember Mike Bonin argued that the shelter will not accept walk-in residents and will instead serve as a more centralized living quarters for those now living in makeshift encampments on neighborhood sidewalks.

Ryavec says he doesn’t buy it. “All they’re doing is making life more difficult, and more dangerous, for residents,” he says.

On May 10, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge is set to decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction that would halt the project.

Though funding for the shelter has been approved, and the lease has been finalized, construction hasn’t begun on the project. Garcetti’s press secretary, Alex Comisar, says the city is awaiting the judge’s decision before starting work on the project, which was once expected to open by spring.

Ryavec says his ultimate goal is to “make the city revisit the location” of the planned shelter. He points to alternative sites recommended for further study by the Venice Neighborhood Council as better fits for the housing facility.

None of those sites are in Venice, where the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority counted 854 people living without shelter in early 2018.

Ryavec says the neighborhood isn’t appropriate for a large shelter like the one planned at the Metro lot.

“What idiot would put this in a residential neighborhood on some of the most expensive land in California?” he asks. “At some point all of those beds are going to fill up, and that’s where the danger comes.”

Since announcing the bridge housing effort, Garcetti has stressed that police and sanitation workers will ramp up efforts to keep areas around the shelters free of encampments. It’s a stance that’s drawn criticism from homeless advocates, who say the initiative gives officers leeway to aggressively police homeless communities.

According to a February report to the City Council’s budget committee, the cost of police patrols at the bridge housing sites averaged more than $94,000 per month at each of the two shelters open at the time (a third has since opened, and at least six more are on the way).

For Ryavec, the prospect of additional policing isn’t a problem. He says enforcement is necessary to properly address homelessness in Venice.

“Every time you become more permissive, and add more amenities, you’re simply inviting more people to come to this area,” he says.

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