LA sheriff sends deputies to assess Venice homeless crisis

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The sheriff of Los Angeles County dispatched deputies Tuesday to Venice Beach to assess the homelessness problem, a day after he called out city officials for failing to adequately address the growing number of people sleeping outdoors along the famous strand.

Venice is the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Police Department, not the Sheriff’s Department. But Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he was moved to act because of “the failures of local politicians in regard to the homelessness crisis.”

Villanueva tweeted Monday that he was sending the Sheriff’s Department’s Homeless Outreach Services Team to the beach, where encampments have proliferated along the popular boardwalk and in surrounding neighborhoods.

The sheriff said the goal was to clear the area of homeless encampments by July 4.

News reports showed nearly two dozen sheriff’s deputies along with social workers and volunteers talking to some of the dozens of people living in tents and makeshift shelters near the famous boardwalk.

“What we saw was human misery,” Lt. Geff Deedrick, head of the sheriff’s team, told KNBC-TV.

“This isn’t a one-size-fits-all issue,” he said. “This is individual conversations. We need to know who’s here and what their individual needs are.”

“They’re going to start interfacing with the homeless, start doing their assessments and figuring out where everybody is in their transition from being homeless to being housed,” he told CBS 2 News.

Villaneuva told CBS 2 News that he was not trying to start a turf battle with the Police Department, but instead was trying to help.

“I’m not going to blame LAPD whatsoever,” he said. “I think they can definitely do the job. They’re more than capable, have good leadership. However, if they’re hamstrung by politicians that don’t want them to do their job, well then they’re left in a very, very bad situation.”

“The Los Angeles Police Department is committed to working with all of our public safety partner agencies and elected officials to improve the safety of our communities,” the LAPD said in a statement Tuesday. ”Including efforts to increase outreach and provide needed housing and supportive services in the Venice Beach community and elsewhere.”

Police Chief Michel Moore also called on the City Council to end a moratorium that he said wouldn’t allow his officers to enforce city no-camping laws, KNBC-TV reported.

“The conditions in the encampments on the Venice boardwalk are not safe or healthy for anyone,” Alex Comisar, spokesman for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, told the station.

But he added: “The courts have been clear about how we’re allowed to enforce camping laws in public spaces, and the mayor is more interested in pressing ahead with the difficult work of ending homelessness than in political theater.”

City Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the district that includes the area, accused Villanueva of making political hay out of a serious problem.

“He didn’t call to offer services or housing, which would help,” Bonin said in a tweet Tuesday. “He went on a PR blitz, promising his own notorious brand of justice. To anyone familiar with Villanueva and LASD, that’s incredibly ominous.”

Villanueva’s move comes as the county struggles with ways to deal with a homeless population estimated at more than 60,000.

On Tuesday, the county Board of Supervisors ordered homeless and public health agencies to look into a plan for providing housing to an estimated 600 women and 55 families now living on skid row in Los Angeles.

“A lack of stable housing increases women’s vulnerability to violence, exacerbating the trauma many unhoused women have already experienced,” the motion said.