VENICE, CA — Mayor Eric Garcetti joined Gov. Gavin Newsom and other local leaders Friday to announce the city of Los Angeles was awarded nearly $40 million to create permanent housing for homeless people through the state's fourth round of the Homekey initiative.
"Confronting and ending homelessness is a team effort, demanding attention, resources and investment from cities, counties and our state," Garcetti said. "Los Angeles has taken full advantage of Homekey, submitting applications for 16 properties which, if approved, will add hundreds of permanent supportive housing units to our stock and allow us to bring more of our most vulnerable neighbors indoors."
The funding will create 243 units in the city, which is part of the state's $147 million of this round to established 1,109 units throughout California.
In total, the four rounds have funded $590 million in housing costs in the state, according to the governor's office.
The program funds the purchase and rehabilitation of housing units within hotels, motels, vacant apartment buildings and other properties to make them long-term residences for homeless people.
"Behind every allocation we make for Homekey is the story of a Californian who will no longer have to sleep in a tent, in a car or on the street," Newsom said. "The partnerships with local leaders and their innovative approaches to homeless solutions are inspiring."
The county of Los Angeles was awarded $16.1 million for two projects, totaling 145 units with supportive services and rental subsidies to residents.
"I applaud Governor Newsom for his unwavering leadership and investing much-needed resources to combat this crisis within a crisis — homelessness amid a pandemic," county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. "We have eight motels lined up to be converted into affordable apartments with services, a key component of our COVID-19 recovery rehousing plan."
Newsom also announced a partnership with Enterprise Community Partners, a nonprofit that develops affordable housing, to distribute $45 million in funding — $20 million from Blue Shield of California and $25 million from Kaiser Permanente — to support Homekey.
This funding will provide critical services like case management, job training, substance-abuse counseling and more, the governor's office stated.
Newsom announced last month that he asked the Joint Legislative Budget Committee for an additional $200 million in coronavirus relief funding for Homekey.
If approved, the Department of Housing and Community Development will provide funding for about 20 more Homekey projects now on a waitlist pending additional funds.
Homelessness is a crisis in Venice and throughout the greater Los Angeles area.
"We are moving now with a real sense of urgency at deliberate speeds that we have not processed in the past," Newsom said.
Newsom cited the "COVID-induced recession in the state of California," and how poverty and homelessness is a crisis that existed before the pandemic.
"That crisis has not gone away," Newsom said.
Venice's Cadillac Hotel is one of several locations participating in Los Angeles. Under the project, homeless people who are high risk for coronavirus are housed temporarily in motels or hotels.
Venice resident Sultan Sharrief told Patch that the conditions along the Venice Beach boardwalk have shifted since the start of the pandemic, with tourism halted, restaurants and businesses closing and people who were at high risk contracting the virus no longer there.
"Volunteers stopped coming," Sharrief said.
Sharrief described the changes, and how that shift could hit the boardwalk even harder this fall and during the holidays, when tourism in the past was the main driving economic factor in Venice, Santa Monica and at other LA beach communities.
"You just cut off this super at-risk community that exists in a fragile balance," Sharrief said.
This year isn't like last year, or any of the years before, especially for homeless along the boardwalk.
"Aussies, Europeans on holiday, they all come through and they spend a lot of money."
Instead of tourists buying items from people selling along the boardwalk, or giving homeless people money and providing leftovers, the entire area is different.
With Starbucks and local libraries closed, homeless people are facing unique challenges for accessing wifi. Some homeless people have survived that way, but the pandemic changed that. Now, there is no moment alone.
"You save up your money just to have quiet," he said.
It can be difficult to socially distance on the boardwalk, Sharrief described. And he's filmed what happens there.
"People are going through withdrawal," he said.
It's not like before, Sharrief said, when there was a demand for drugs and drug dealers to sell in night clubs and bars.
"Runners dress up homeless and send them to clubs," he said.
Venice residents have been alarmed over the last several months, noting major changes.
With increased fires at homeless camps, a recent sexual assault near the Venice Fishing Pier and a possible gang-related shooting that left one man injured are alarming Venice residents. A body was discovered at the Venice Beach boardwalk early Wednesday.
Venice is home to the largest homeless population on LA's Westside. The average home price in the Venice area is $1.9 million.
"It's the worst human catastrophe in America," Andy Bales, a pastor who runs the Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row, told the Hollywood Reporter in 2019.
Venice resident Alexander Poe created an online petition to call attention to the concerns in the area and hopes to address what has happened on the boardwalk.
"Converting existing motels and vacant buildings sounds faster and more economical than constructing new housing," Poe told Patch.
"If this provides immediate solutions that use our resources in a better way to help more people I’m all for it," Poe said. "Venice has the second-largest homeless population in the city just after Skid Row and I hope this program helps."
- City News Service and Patch Editor Nicole Charky contributed to this report.