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Open Letter from Aetna Street Residents to Mayor Bass’ Office

Residents of an encampment on Aetna Street say they have been targeted to have their encampments removed. They are demanding better communication and accountability from Mayor Bass’ office.

Around 30 people stand in front of an RV in the daytime with a sign that reads "Aetnapalooza."
Aetna Street residents and advocates at a mutual aid event on March 2023.

We are a community of residents living on Aetna Street in Van Nuys. Yes, we are unhoused. We host community events including movie nights and collaborate with local organizations to provide food, medical services, and supplies to keep people alive. We are also fighting for the right to housing — because it is permanent housing, dignity, and a sense of community and belonging that we all need.

We have been told that our encampment is being targeted for an Inside Safe operation. We know that not enough resources have been secured for that to be possible, and we fear that we will have to pay a price for this promise.

Politicians promised housing with programs like Project Roomkey and A Bridge Home Shelter and EHV and Section 8. We have seen council presidents come and go with racist and classist policies intended to punish the poor for the crime of being unhoused. These politicians come and go, and yet we remain. We remain unhoused, we continue to be harassed by the LAPD, and we continue to live with the failure of this city to address the real needs of people living outside. We are often not safe because of your failures, because we were not listened to, we weren’t believed. We are not service-resistant. We are service-experienced and our experiences have not led to housing. Many of us are forced to cycle through trauma as a result.

Since January of this year, Mayor Bass has moved forward with her Inside Safe program, touting that she has moved 900+ people indoors into hotel rooms and shelters, with the promise of housing vouchers for those who participate. Residents of an encampment on Van Nuys Boulevard and Aetna Street say that last month, they were told by service providers that they were being targeted for one such operation, though on the day it was to proceed, a small number of people were only offered “tiny home” shelters and the operation did not happen. Residents reported feeling confused and frustrated by the communication with the city. In advance of any potential housing operation or sweep at the encampment, residents have written a list of demands for how they would like to see the operation proceed. 

March 20, 2023

Dear Mayor Karen Bass,

It does not have to be this way.

We are the ones who can determine whether this is Inside Safe. We understand that this is an emergency, we live with the realities and conditions every day. We must be able to determine our own path and make decisions that are best for our lives. We invite your help, but we reject any lies, tricks, or BS. We are not political pawns, we are human beings deserving and worthy of care, dignity, and respect.

We are here to change the way we do this because we believe a better way forward for all of us is possible.

We know what we need. Listen to us. Talk to us. Learn from us. Nothing About Us Without Us.

Our Demands

  1. Inside Safe must be a completely voluntary program with no BS lies, tricks, or promises that can’t be met. People must be allowed the choice, and to be able to choose Inside Safe because it would be the best option for them. Period.
  1. No 41.18 enforcement for those that choose to remain on Aetna Street. Enforcement of 41.18 and 56.11 would undermine the goals of any program designed to house people. We want Housekeys, not Handcuffs.
  1. We demand shelter that is nearby, within 3 miles of where we were previously living. Many of us have jobs, appointments, community, and family that we want to remain close to.
  1. We demand that any offers of shelter be made in writing so we can hold service providers and the mayor’s office accountable to what they are promising us. If you are not here to offer permanent housing, what is it that you are offering today?
  1. Offers must be made clear and in writing. This is the absolute bare minimum in terms of how we should be approached if we are to have a genuine relationship. If there is no clear path to housing, what are we doing here? 
  1. We need to know, in writing, where we will be going, how long we will be allowed to stay, and what we can bring.
  1.  We demand more than two bags. A two-bag rule is ridiculous. We are real people that deserve to be treated fairly and humanely.
  1. We demand a copy of the rules for the shelter hotels we will be sent to before we are sent there. We cannot make informed decisions about where we will live without knowing the rules.
  1. No family separation. People who wish to stay together and stay with their pets must be allowed to do so.
  1. Stop forcing people to give up their tents in exchange for a motel room. That is creepy and weird.
  1. We demand decent food that meets our dietary needs.
  1. We demand full medical teams and wraparound services at every hotel. This includes counseling, housing, and signing people up for IDs and benefits that will better our lives.
  1. We demand dual enrollment at a local community college so we can take classes. This should be an incentivized program!
  1. We demand harm reduction be made available and readily accessible on every floor and that staff be trained to prevent overdoses.
  1. We align ourselves with the demands set forth by UTACH (Unhoused Tenants Against Carceral Housing) and others who are fighting for better living conditions inside shelters and programs like Inside Safe.
  1. We demand a meeting with Mayor Karen Bass and her team to ensure our needs are met.
  1. No Curfews.

Our Questions

  1. What will happen to those that do not accept Inside Safe? We would like to hear from Mayor Karen Bass herself on this, as there has been confusion and uncertainty around the matter. We need to know if enforcement is part of her Inside Safe plan and strategy. We need to know this for our own safety.
  1. What are the food options provided at and around the area(s) we are being moved to? We know from experience with the Salvation Army shelter on this street and programs such as Project Roomkey that there are severe limitations to the nutrition and portions of food offered. Our current community resources ensure that residents can cook and feed each other regularly. We cannot willingly relocate without a guarantee of food quality and security.
20+ signatures from Aetna Street Residents on a piece of paper
Signatures from the Residents of Aetna Street on the open letter.