LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl issued the following statement in response to recent statements by the LA County Sheriff about the homeless encampment on the Venice Boardwalk and the decision to deploy deputies in the area.

I am deeply disturbed by recent statements and actions taken by LA County Sheriff Villanueva regarding homeless encampments at Venice Beach. Although he announced his intervention with great fanfare, walking the Boardwalk in a cowboy hat and publicly rolling out his black and whites, he did not collaborate with LAPD which has primary authority in the area, nor with the providers already working with the people experiencing homelessness along this Boardwalk. His intervention is essentially counterproductive, disrupting, and then taking credit for, ongoing efforts to provide the housing and services necessary to address the crisis in Venice.

The county, the city, and local service agencies are deeply engaged in an effort to provide services and re-house people experiencing homelessness and the sudden appearance of armed Sheriff’s deputies undermines ongoing outreach and re-housing efforts, and threatens to rupture the relationships being built by outreach workers as well as scare unhoused individuals into the surrounding neighborhoods, making them more difficult to track and re-house.

During the pandemic, County and City leaders adhered to CDC public health guidelines and refrained from active disruption of encampments to prevent the spread of COVID19. Only non-disruptive sanitation and outreach services were provided, and as a result, some homeless encampments have grown. Like many County residents, and my LA City colleague Councilman Mike Bonin, I am frustrated that the pandemic has temporarily set back some of our progress re-housing people experiencing homelessness.

However, with the pandemic public health threat waning, we are able to intensify outreach to the Venice Boardwalk and link people to more services and housing. In the last four years, our homeless efforts have permanently rehoused approximately 70,000 people, and our approach is supported by volumes of research that make clear that law enforcement-led strategies are often less effective than when service providers, who bring critical housing and mental health expertise, take the lead.

The attacks on Mike Bonin have been vitriolic and the Sheriff has, at times, joined the critique. But you can’t arrest your way out of a homeless crisis. It takes housing and no amount of deputies can pull that out of thin air. The Sheriff says he has beds, but, when pressed, he means beds in jail. This is not the solution. The situation in Venice, and so many other places, is unacceptable, and demands leadership and partnership focused on solving the crisis in a humane and effective way. If the Sheriff truly wants to help, I ask that he work in cooperation with city and county officials and service providers who have the wealth of experience and expertise to lead these efforts to success.