LOS ANGELES — The 405 Freeway underpass along Venice Boulevard has become a flashpoint in the escalating homelessness crisis plaguing Southern California.
The road is a border between worlds. On the north side of the famed street is Los Angeles — and a sidewalk packed with sun-bleached tents, dirty sleeping bags, bikes in various states of disrepair and even a few surfboards belonging to residents of the underpass’ homeless population. On the south side is Culver City, a storied moviemaking hub and a peaceful suburban oasis.
On a recent weekday morning, Culver City’s side was noticeably bereft of any sign of the homeless sprawl just across the street, save for a lone tent.
Scenes like this are apparent across the Los Angeles region, where homeless camps and tent cities have cropped all over the city of Los Angeles while just across the border in suburbs like Culver City, Manhattan Beach and Rancho Palos Verdes these encampments are nowhere to be seen. This disparity has infuriated Los Angeles city councilmembers and led to claims that L.A.’s neighbors are not just shirking their responsibility in tackling the region’s homeless crisis, but are actively pushing the homeless into L.A.’s city limits.
“They’re slacking, and some are not even doing that much,” Branimir Kvartuc, a spokesperson for L.A. city Councilman Joe Buscaino, told Fox News. “Some are taking the homeless out of their cities and moving them to the L.A. city side.”
These accusations come amid a damning report to local lawmakers that revealed Los Angeles saw a 16 percent increase in its homeless population over last year – soaring to more than 36,000 people living on the streets and landing a blow to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and other city officials working to add more affordable housing and social services. Overall in the bigger Los Angeles County, the homeless population rose 12 percent compared with last year’s count, bringing the total population to almost 59,000.
“We came down here from Santa Barbara because there are more opportunities for work and it seems like there is more support here,” Lauri, a home care worker who recently lost her job and home after the company she worked for went out of business, told Fox News. She added that she and her partner, Cory, have only been living on the streets for a week, but that it will be tough getting back on their feet.
“It’s tough to even get a job interview when you’re living out of a tent,” said Cory, who previously worked as a personal trainer. “I have nowhere to shave or clean myself or iron my clothes.”
Some Los Angeles officials point to the disparity in the number of homeless living in the city as compared with the rest of the county as evidence that neighboring towns are pushing the homeless out of their communities and across the city boundaries. While L.A.’s population of around 4 million people makes up only about 38 percent of the county’s total population, the roughly 36,000 homeless people living in the city account for 61 percent of Los Angeles County’s overall homeless population.
“All things being equal, the numbers just don’t add up,” Kvartuc said.
The practice of sweeping the homeless out of certain communities and into others first came to light early in 2018 when video surfaced of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LACSD) deputies allegedly moving a homeless man out of the upmarket L.A. suburb of Rancho Palos Verdes and leaving him in San Pedro, an L.A. neighborhood that is in Buscaino’s district.
While the LACSD did not respond to Fox News’ request for comment, Nicole Nishida, a spokeswoman for the department, told The Los Angeles Times last year that the homeless man was not “dumped” in San Pedro, but the deputies were “performing an act of compassionate service” by taking the man to a bus stop.
“This call is not a case of dumping,” Nishida said. Kvartuc countered that in the video, there is no bus stop in sight.
Buscaino and other councilmembers aren’t buying the claims by law enforcement agencies throughout the county that the practice of “dumping” homeless within Los Angeles city limits is not occurring.
“Instead of allowing people to sleep on their sidewalks, they are encouraging people, or compelling people, to move to the city of Los Angeles to do that,” L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district borders Culver City, told The Los Angeles Times.
Last week, Buscaino and Bonin asked City Attorney Mike Feuer to look into any possible legal action that could be taken to force smaller cities to stop the practice of sweeping the homeless into Los Angeles.
The councilmembers argue that some neighboring cities are openly disobeying a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from last year that found that prosecuting homeless people for sleeping on public property when they have no access to a shelter was in violation of the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
The debate over shelters and affordable housing is a much larger issue in California, but L.A. city officials say they just want their neighbors to follow the law and do their part.
“We’re shining a light on the 9th Circuit decision because we’re doubtful some of these cities are even aware of the 9th Circuit ruling,” Kvartuc said. “Councilmember Buscaino is just asking other cities to do what Los Angeles is doing, because it’s one of the few cities in the region doing something about the homelessness crisis.”
Officials in Culver City – whose police force has been repeatedly accused of ordering the homeless to move out of its borders – denied participating in the practice of “dumping” and said they have not issued a citation for sleeping on public property for at least 10 years.
“We have a significant homeless population, but we’re very attentive and we follow the law,” Culver City Manager John Nachbar told Fox News. “We’re a small city but we have significant resources dedicated to public safety.
When asked about the visible difference between the two sides of the Venice Boulevard border, Nachbar said he was unsure why the homeless encampment was in Los Angeles city, but said maybe the homeless “choose to levitate where there is less attention.”
As for sweeping the homeless into Los Angeles, he added: “I’m not aware of any type of situation like that. We don’t do that.”
Nachbar’s claims run counter to what some people living in the homeless encampment along the 405 underpass say is happening.
“I came across to this side because I don’t want to get harassed by the Culver City cops,” Tzarina, a recovering heroin user who has been living on the L.A. side of the underpass for about three months, told Fox News. “Los Angeles is more open, more understanding of our situation here.”
She added: “In Culver City, it’s like the suburbs. They don’t want to see you there.”