In Venice, car dwellers respond to prospect of 'safe' overnight parking

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Brian Watt/KPCC

A Chevy Van and an RV serve as homes in Venice

For years, the Venice area has attracted people with nothing left but their cars or recreational vehicles – and the belongings they can fit inside. The city of Los Angeles is developing a program to help people in that situation. It would accompany new parking restrictions designed to reduce the number of sleep-in vehicles that stay overnight on residential streets.

"If you’re gonna be homeless, be homeless in Venice," says John Espinoza, laughing. "You know, the weather is nice, it’s hard to starve here. Everybody’s giving people food and you can get clothing all over the place. It’s really hard in Venice to be down and out."

Espinoza, 55, lives in a Chevy van with his girlfriend. By day, they usually park it in the beach lot at the end of Rose Avenue. But overnight, he's gotta move to a street, and it's usually Hampton.

"We call it the Hamptons," he jokes.

Espinoza is an Army veteran and a mechanic. He repairs a lot of the vehicles people in Venice call home. On Tuesday mornings, he and his van often move a block over from Hampton – on 3rd Avenue. He puts the van nose-to-nose with a graffiti-covered RV that needs to be off the block in a half hour for weekly street sweeping. The RV's battery is dead, and Espinoza revives it with jumper cables.

Although Espinoza would like to live in a house again someday, he’s wary of programs that might help him get there. He’s tried one or two, and the rules don’t agree with him.

"You gotta do this, do this, do this," says Espinoza. "If I just park my truck on the street and go to sleep, what am I bothering anybody? I’m not bothering anybody. You know, I’m not in their yard. Knocking on their door, asking to use their restroom."

But many of his neighbors who occupy houses, apartments and businesses complain about the hygiene challenges homeless people face.

“The hardest part for me, being right here and having a studio, is sometimes just dealing with the excrement,” says William Attaway.

He's a sculptor and painter who’s lived in Venice for 30 years. Through the front gate of his studio, he can look up the sidewalks of 3rd Avenue where many homeless people sleep. He hates that they have to walk three blocks to the nearest public restroom.

"Most of the people are great, you know. It’s a just a few bad apples, who come and... you know... if you ask them to clean up, they’ll come make more of a mess in the middle of the night right in front of your spot."

Access to restrooms, showers, and trash facilities are some of the amenities the city of Los Angeles would like to offer people who sleep in their cars in Venice. The program in development would provide safe overnight parking spots in the lots of say, churches, nonprofits, or business parks. It also would connect the people who park there with social services and case management.

William Attaway is all for it. Despite his occasional frustration, he tries to help his homeless neighbors and wants to see them treated fairly.

"Some of my neighbors hate them. Some of my neighbors love them," says Attaway. "Me, I’m sort of in between. I’m not gonna judge somebody else just because they’re going through a rough time."

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the Venice neighborhood, plans a public meeting on the new program in a few weeks. He hopes to launch it by the end of the year.

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