Homelessness forum in Venice over human waste gets tense

Residents at Venice forum hold up "Our Streets Are Not Toilets" sign.
Residents at Venice forum hold up "Our Streets Are Not Toilets" sign. Brian Watt/KPCC

Tempers flared Thursday night at a packed town hall on homelessness at Westminster Elementary School in Venice.

Many people who live in homes there have gotten tired of the way some people who live in their cars and campers behave. Venice homeowners and renters have complained about car and RV-dwellers who dump human waste on the streets. Many homeless people have complained that the few available public bathrooms don't stay open.

It got really tense last month when homeowners reported of large quantities of human waste from those campers being dumped on the streets, and the city was slow to respond.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl called the meeting to let people know what the city is doing to address some of the problems, but in his opening remarks, Rosendahl wanted to strike a balance.

"I refuse to accept that residents and the homeless must be pitted against one another," Rosendahl said to cheers. "We can help people who need help, and we can enforce laws protecting quality of life in our neighborhood."

A long panel of staffers from the city attorney's office and from the Department of Transportation discussed new ordinances in the works that will restrict overnight parking of oversized vehicles on Venice streets.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck also attended. He announced that he's posting 21 additional officers in the Pacific Division specifically to help in Venice.

And the head of the L.A. Homeless Services Authority talked about the Streets to Homes program in development that will establish safe parking lots for car and RV dwellers, get them social services and, eventually, jobs and housing.

A lot of the homeless people kept asking exactly where these safe parking lots will be.

Many feel that the behavior of a few RV dwellers are making them all look bad, especially with regard to the dumping of human waste. But they say that problem begins with a lack of public bathrooms that stay open.

Tracey Castle has been homeless in Venice for three years. She told her story during the public comment period. "I slept in my car," said Castle. "I woke up. I had to use the bathroom. I went into Gold's Gym and asked them if I could use the bathroom. They told me 'no.' And it was already to the point where I could not hold it any longer. So I chose a nice Porsche."

She went on to say that she defecated by that Porsche, and called it the most humiliating moment of her life. Castle now lives in a camper and says she can use the bathroom in it, and that she doesn't dump her waste in the streets.

But a number of homeowners and renters spoke, too. They're ready for tougher rules.

Colette Bailey has lived in Venice for most of her adult life. She drew cheers from most of the crowd, and jeers from some others. "We want to be helpful," said Bailey. "We want to be inclusive and we want to have people in our community that have less and more and everything else, but those of you lifestyling through life and just living off the grid, and pouring crap in our yards, we've had it." Members of the crowd cheered. "We have had it! Enough already! I'm done. Over. If you need help, there's help."

Two young kids stood behind the main podium throughout the meeting with a sign that read "Our Streets Are Not Toilets."

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