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Venice Unhoused Seniors Continue to Be Overlooked Despite Vulnerability

Older unhoused people with chronic health conditions living in less visited areas of Venice are continually overlooked for housing.

Stone, a disabled unhoused resident of 3rd Street in Venice, CA. (Photo by Katie Fedigan-Linton)

“I don’t know why I never have any help for 25 years,” said Lorenzo, a 62 year old man who has lived on the streets of Venice for 25 years. “They always say ‘hey, we’ll help you’ then they stomp on me. Lately, they put me in a motel — for eight months I was there, and they said they were going to help me out for housing. Then every three months they told me, ‘you need to go, we’re closing.’ Who going to help me? Do I go back on the street?”  

Lorenzo is one of the older unhoused people with chronic health conditions who lives on 3rd Street, a part of Venice outside the view of most tourists. Despite the City’s CES (coordinated entry system) being designed to prioritize the most needy unhoused citizens, experiences like Lorenzo’s are so commonplace that several able-bodied residents of 3rd Street relocated to the Venice boardwalk in order to improve their chances of receiving housing or shelter.  

“Housing is supposed to be for everyone, but the current priority is the boardwalk residents,” explained Lisa Redmond, a member of Venice Catholic Worker who does daily outreach to the unhoused people in Venice. “We have a lot of sick and elderly on the streets, but they’re not near the beach and they’re missing out.” 

Lisa Redmond speaking to an unhoused resident of 3rd Street in Venice, CA. (Photo by Katie Fedigan-Linton)  

“I have a heart condition, and I’m a diabetic. I was so stressed, so depressed,” continued Lorenzo. “They was accusing me of bringing alcohol to the motel — I’m not alcoholic, I hate drinking. I was getting really depressed, so I left and came back here on the street. I’ve been in this spot [on 3rd Street] for 15 years.

“I’m not angry with people on the beach, and I’m not jealous they getting a place before me, but that’s not right. It’s not right, says Lorenzo. “I don’t know who’s making all of these rules. I get angry, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t wanna be on the street anymore. It’s getting too much — it’s dangerous. Being homeless for 25 years, it once was fine — now it’s nothing like that. This is like living in jail. It’s miserable — the worst thing that you can think.”  

Next I spoke with Stone. A 61-year-old living on 3rd Street with disabilities and terminal brain cancer, he is another example of a vulnerable Angeleno who has been left out in the cold. 

“Let me start where my brain can take me right now,” Stone said. “I had brain surgery in January [2020] for a massive brain tumor on my right side. I was in the hospital for a while, I don’t know how long. And from there I don’t know where I went because my memory’s gone. With 20% of my brain gone, I can remember very, very little. I know I escaped from a nursing home where they were manipulating my medications and not treating me right — I hated it.  

“All these people, these LAHSA people, they’re nothing but a goddamn joke. They put me in a hotel someplace where I don’t even know. Well, they had a hard time dealing with someone like me, with brain cancer. They’ve never dealt with people with brain cancer before. They had no clue. Because they gave me a big long list of rules that I’m supposed to remember — I can’t. I can’t remember when the last time I changed my shirt, and that’s no joke. Lorenzo helps me. He tells me ‘Stone: you gotta change your clothes’ because I don’t remember when the last time I did that. Sometimes he even has to remind me to eat.

“I’m not asking for nothing special, I’m asking for consideration. I’m paralyzed on my left side. I can’t use my leg, I can’t hardly stand on it. I can’t use my arm, my fingers are all numb and frozen — you know how hard it is to go from this concrete to that [wheelchair]? And how many times I’ve fallen? You don’t know how hard it is to sit here, be half paralyzed and can’t move, and have to rely on somebody else for everything.  

“I understand that they all want to clean up Venice, I understand all that. I understand the business and I understand the money, but goddamn it, what about the disabled people? What about us? What about the elderly people? What about the mentally impaired people?”  

The type of housing and medical support that men like Stone need is extremely limited, and yet available resources keep going to younger, healthier unhoused people living on the Venice boardwalk. According to LAHSA’s 2020 count of unhoused people in the City of Los Angeles in 2020, there are over 8,000 unsheltered people aged 55 and up, and at least 656 live in Venice. LAHSA also noted that homelessness in seniors aged 62 and up rose 20% during the pandemic.

“That’s why the Stones of LA are pissed,” Lisa Redmond explained. “They’re promised housing because of their need by service providers, only to lose priority because they’re not living in the right place at the right time.”  

Kenny and Tyra, a married couple living on 3rd Street in Venice, CA. (Photo by Katie Fedigan Linton)

Next I spoke with Kenny (age 59) and Tyra (age 56), who sell homemade birdhouses and artwork from their tent on 3rd Street.  

“I’ve had arthritis since I was 15,” Tyra told me. “And anxiety, depression, I gotta take medicine. And my bladder, gotta take medicine — without it it’s not very good.”  

“I got a bad heart, can’t breathe that good, can’t be out in the sun,” Kenny told me. “Bowel problems, weight loss. I can’t keep weight on. And uh, this toe [on my right foot], doctors don’t know what the hell is wrong with it. Hurts all the time — I can’t wear shoes, socks, or touch it or put blankets over it.”  

“God forgive me saying this, but [LAHSA] are idiots,” Tyra said. “They keep coming around saying ‘help, it’s coming.’ I got two lizards — iguanas. They’re in the lizard family.”  

“It’s for her health,” Kenny explained. “These animals help her from going into a panic attack.”

“They look like dinosaurs,” Tyra smiled.

“But that’s what’s keeping her from going into one of those places, keeping her out here.” Kenny said, “I know people who had cats and dogs and they got put up in hotels. [The iguanas are] in the cage! They don’t tear up the place. I don’t like the mayor too well — they got all this frickin’ ground, why can’t they give a little piece to each one on the street? Let them live the way they want to live? In peace.”  

“Yeah, but how’s money coming in?” Tyra said. “You gotta have money coming in.” 

“They could still help people,” said Kenny. “It pisses me off. It’s not fair.” 

While the above stories are all from 3rd Street, they are typical of unhoused Angelenos more generally. Before the unhoused residents of Echo Park Lake were violently evicted, they were prioritized for housing while the unhoused people living on Glendale Boulevard under a bridge down the street were largely ignored. This is because local NIMBYs have exclusively focused on “cleaning up” parks, rather than pushing local officials to provide housing for all the Angelenos who need it.  

As of July 30, the Venice boardwalk outreach project ended with 211 unhoused people  receiving shelter or housing, with CD11 (which includes Venice) telling Knock LA that 172 of those people have been matched with housing subsidies, though that rehousing process could take six months or more. While this is encouraging news, it appears that the unhoused residents of 3rd Street will continue to be overlooked regardless of vulnerability.  

“I’m hearing rumblings that any leftover [housing] vouchers will most likely go to Westchester Park, the newest NIMBY battleground,” Lisa Redmond explained. “So Stone, Lorenzo, Kenny, Tyra will lose out in housing again to another person who is instead living in a park. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but everyone deserves housing. Nobody should be living outside unless they willingly choose to. But it’s so hard to watch the aged and ill get passed over without dignity.” Update: Knock LA was provided additional comment from the office of Councilmember Mike Bonin after publishing: “Leftover funds or vouchers from the Venice Beach Encampments to Homes effort will be used for Venice — and Third Street is one of those particular areas that will be served with any additional funds. The city allocation of money was specific to Venice, so this funding cannot be used for Westchester Park.

Knock LA reached out to Councilmember Mike Bonin’s office for comment. “People experiencing homelessness living on and around [the Venice boardwalk] Ocean Front Walk were offered a pathway to permanent housing through the Encampments to Homes program, which focuses on people living in a specific geographic area to try and connect and assist entire groups of people living in an encampment with the support they need,” they tell us. They also say that they are planning a similar Encampments to Homes initiative for Westchester Park. The City Administrative Officer recently reported that these areas are unsuitable for shelter housing, a decision that was celebrated by right-wing NIMBY neighborhood organizations.

When asked what their plans for the folks on 3rd Street are, Councilmember Bonin’s office responded: “Regular outreach will continue to people experiencing homelessness on 3rd Street, and people will be offered placements in interim and permanent housing opportunities as they become available.” Update: The office added, after publishing: “The Venice Beach Encampments to Homes model showed that, with appropriate resources, people can be moved indoors on a path to permanent housing, quickly, humanely, and efficiently. That is why Councilmember Bonin is partnering with Councilmembers Ridley-Thomas and Price to introduce the Housing Now initiative, which seeks resources for rental subsidies, scattered site master leasing, and other vouchers that could move 10,000 people off the street quickly, in partnership with LA County.

For anyone who would like to hear from Stone directly, he recently started a TikTok about his experiences — at @stonelawson3. To support Kenny and Tyra, please consider stopping by 3rd Street to purchase a birdhouse or other artwork from them (they take cash only.) Here are some examples of their work:

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