From Venice to D.C. – An Open Letter to President Obama

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Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your new job. Now that you have been duly sworn in as president, which is the most powerful position on planet earth, I HOPE you can help some people living in poverty here in Venice, California. I believe that Venice could be used as the roadmap to a real humane solution to the homeless situation.

Unfortunately, our city government is hell bent on criminalizing poor people: sending them to jails or prisons, processing them through costly court procedures, and over bloating the law enforcement budget so it can be used for this non-solution to homelessness. It is much less expensive to actually house poor people and provide them with services. (see Policing Our Way Out of Homelessness? By Gary Blasi)

Recently the proponents of criminalizing and removing poor people from our Venice community have spread sensational mis-information on the local mainstream media, like people living in vehicles just appeared in Venice. Not true. Years of greedy property development (gentrification) led many Venetians onto the street and years of removing the nighttime street parking with street signs created limited locations for vehicle dwellers – resulting in photo opportunities for multiple campers in a small area.

Truth is Venice used to be predominantly low-income, it has always been eclectic with people living in vans or buses, and most long time residents have a deeper understanding of the vehicle dwelling situation. We want some real solutions for our neighbors in vehicles. Not housing people in shelters or jail, not using law enforcement as a weapon on the poor, and not treating people as if they are less than human so it is somehow OK moving them away from the unique services that exist in this beach town – services only surpassed by Skid Row.

Another misleading piece of propaganda recently spread is that RV people are peeing and pooing all over Venice – hurting the “quality of life” of the people who have nice homes to pee in. Even though we are known for our homeless issues and are a very large tourist destination, Venice has few public toilets and they almost all are closed at night. In fact, bar patrons are the quintessential public peeing problem.

President Obama, more than half of the people living homeless in Los Angeles are African American – like you. People that qualify as homeless (using the federal definition) are disabled, they are veterans, war resisters, seniors, women and children, or simply people who cannot afford to pay rent, medical, or food – at no fault of their own. The majority of people living on the street do not want to. But their options are extremely limited. A car is far superior to a shelter cot most of the time. We only have a winter shelter system on the west side that will not allow you to bring your belongings or your pet and it is only open for part of the night. The shelter bus does not even have a wheel chair lift, but a considerable amount of our City’s budget pays for a beat cop to ticket a disabled homeless person.

President Obama, you might think this is a systemic problem or that we are only one part of the homeless and poverty problem, but you can help. Our Mayor and City Council think that living in a vehicle problem can be solved using the city’s Department of Transportation, Bureau of Engineering, Department of Recreation and Parks, and city workers installing street signs that really say “No Homeless” underneath the words “No Parking between 2am and 6am” or “Park Closed at Dusk.”

Making homelessness illegal is no solution and I HOPE you will take a stand on this issue. We need real solutions. Criminalizing people with unending amounts of tickets they can not afford to pay, putting up street signs to get rid of poor people living in cars, closing parks so people have to sleep on a cold sidewalk, calling on law enforcement to harass people, putting people in jail for so-called “quality of life” offenses, and moving people into internment zones certainly is not the answer. I am calling on your administration to stop giving any federal funds to this kind of activity and to investigate how to use these funds to get people in some decent affordable housing.

We are losing affordable housing at an alarming rate and no one is even tracking this beyond the subsidized projects lost. There is housing and land sitting vacant, enough to take a large dent right now out of our homeless numbers. We can easily put many homeless people in temporary trailers or alternative situations. People are dying on the street. It is an emergency.

The affluent few that rule our corrupt city government should not be allowed to remove or jail increasing numbers of poor people. This includes our Los Angeles City Council, whose members have salaries well over $150,000 and who voted in favor of giving themselves a raise last go round. Our own City Councilman Bill Rosendahl claims to be a progressive liberal yet he has been pushing for permit parking in Venice, called OPDs (Overnight Parking Districts). This is a shameless effort to remove the poor people living here in vehicles, to privatize city streets next to the beach, and to get city revenue doing it. This big sham is only meant to protect the “quality of life” of the affluent who can afford to live by this now gentrified beach town. This OPD law and the other “Quality of Life” laws are helping to create hate for homeless people (see Hating The Homeless, www.SPLCenter.org). Homeless people are being murdered, some horribly beaten or shot. One was dowsed with gasoline and set on fire in Los Angeles recently. Something has to be done to stop this trend. We have to change course or it will only get worse – not better.

Obama, give us some HOPE. Please see if you can do something to stop the LAPD from calling Bruffy’s Tow Company and taking these poor people’s home on wheels. Stop federally funding any project by the City of Los Angeles that is connected to wasting our tax money ticketing, towing, jailing, and torturing homeless people. This money can go to solutions that are more cost effective, such as supportive housing!

Mr. President, many non-profit agencies working with poor and homeless people have done very close to nothing to help protect the civil and human rights of the homeless people being targeted with this horrible law enforced non-solution. Maybe they are afraid of loosing their funding. President Obama, give them some courage and start funding some real solutions – with human rights – before it is too late.

Sincerely,

Peggy Lee Kennedy
Venice Justice Committee

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