Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - California’s famed Venice Beach struggles with overwhelming homeless problem



California’s famed Venice Beach struggles with overwhelming homeless problem

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Rodrick Mims, 50, who has been homeless off and on over the last 15 years, stands with his artwork and tent shelter at Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California. AFP

California’s famed Venice Beach struggles with overwhelming homeless problem

Ah YES, Venice Beach in California: synonymous with sun, surf, palm trees and, now, homeless people.

As many as 200 tents line the oceanfront in this Los Angeles-area town that for decades has been a lure for surfers and tourists.

The area is a chaotic jumble of any material that can create shelter, and of waste and detritus, amid appalling hygiene conditions. The smell of urine competes with that of suntan lotion.

“I didn’t expect to see so many homeless people here in Venice. Already in Hollywood a few days ago, I was a bit surprised, but here, all these tents touching each other, these shacks, these tarpaulins, it’s almost like a village,” said John Jackson, who was visiting from the southern US state of Alabama.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, authorities made homeless people living on the beach take down their tents during the day. But city hall suspended that rule to limit the risk of contagion among people who are already vulnerable to illness.

Homeless people in the Venice area, many of whom lost places in shelters and free meals because of the pandemic, have used the health crisis to converge on the city’s beach.

“The homeless have been part of Venice folklore since the 60s or 70s, but now their numbers have exploded. And they’ve changed too,” said an assistant in a souvenir shop who did not want to be named.

“Before a lot of them were hippies, beach bums who had more or less chosen this way of life. Now they are really poor guys. Almost everyone out there is very bad physically and mentally,” said this man in his 60s.

“I see pain, mental illnesses, drugs . . . And it’s been rough for me this past month,” said Denise Diangelo, a homeless woman who lives in the beachfront encampment.

“Probably the main problem that I’ve had personally is sleeping. I usually like to sleep alone by the water, the Pacific Ocean, to keep away from problems,” said Diangelo. Her only shelter, she says, is a beach umbrella.

Right before the pandemic nearly 2,000 people were recorded as being homeless in the streets of Venice. The numbers have grown steadily.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Artist Scott A Dickinson, who was formerly homeless before moving into a shared housing programme, stands for a portrait at his home near Venice Beach. AFP

But now that life is returning to normal and tourists are coming back, the beachfront homeless camp is beginning to bother some and even take on a political bent.

Mike Bonin, a city councillor who advocates relocating the homeless population, has found himself locking horns with the Los Angeles County sheriff’s office and neighbourhood associations that want a much more forceful evacuation the homeless.

A chronic problem in California Like many people who visit Los Angeles, Jackson, the Alabama tourist, said he cannot understand “why all these people are homeless when California has the reputation of being so rich.”

Indeed, California boasts the world’s fifth-largest economy in terms of GDP. But it is also one of the US states with the most poor people.

It holds the sad title of being home to the largest homeless population in America: more than 66,000 in Los Angeles County alone before Covid-19, up nearly 13 per cent from the previous year.

One of the main reasons for this, according to the Los Angeles city agency that tries to address homelessness, is the lack of affordable housing in a city where rent is very expensive.

Rent shot up 65 per cent from 2010 to 2020, nearly twice the average rate of increase for the country as a whole. In the same period, median Los Angeles household income rose only 36 per cent.

Some groups are working to provide aid and housing for the homeless people of Venice, but this is a tough job because some of them having been living on the streets for years.

Take the case of Rodrick Sims, who is 50 and has been homeless for 15 years. He said his descent started when he got divorced.

“I don’t know what to do. I’m hoping that they give me, you know, a place where I can start learning how to live inside again,” he said while eating grapes outside his tent on the beach.

“I’ll tell you, when once you’re outside, you get feral, like a wild wild man,” Sims said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia to waive quarantine requirements Nov 15, no PCR test required

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has decided to lift all quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers and visitors – both Cambodians and foreign nationals – effective from November 15 onward. In a special message addressed to officials and relevant authorities on November 14, Hun Sen said this policy will enable

  • PM: No more quarantine for vaccinated travellers

    Cambodia is lifting all quarantine requirements for vaccinated inbound travellers entering Cambodia by air, waterway or land border checkpoints effective from November 15. Travellers will be required to take a rapid antigen test on arrival rather than waiting for the results of the lengthier polymerase chain

  • No payment required for travellers taking rapid Covid tests on arrival

    Ministry of Health officials said there would be no payment required for the rapid Covid-19 tests given to travellers who arrive in Cambodia from November 15 onwards after the quarantine requirement is lifted for fully vaccinated people. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine told The Post on

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration