News, Culture & Society

How California’s scenic Venice Beach has become a homeless hotspot

Wearing a blue hoodie emblazoned with a picture of Marilyn Monroe, scowling, middle-aged  Betty was deeply engrossed in a conversation with herself.

Suddenly a mother and her teenage daughter rounded the bend on the beachfront bike path, and Betty, for no apparent reason, picked up an eight-inch square piece of plywood and hurled it, taking aim at the front wheel of the mom’s cycle, nearly causing her to come crashing down on to the pavement.

Welcome to Venice Beach, California.

It’s the place where tourists and locals flock to see tarot card readers, tattooists, wannabe rappers and artists trying to make a buck by selling their work, but now overrun by the homeless.

Exclusive DailyMail.com photos show tent-dwellers who have abandoned downtown LA’s Skid Row and the freeway ramps in Long Beach, turning a short stretch of prime property just south of the Santa Monica border into the nation’s newest flashpoint between business interests and those forced from their homes. 

And while tourists and locals still visit the iconic boardwalk – a place they have long shared with the weird and the wacky – visitors’ numbers have decreased as they must contend with an ever-growing army of homeless and the crime that accompanies them.   

DailyMail.com found syringes — one with a needle still attached — nestling in the sand in a children’s play area on the beach, emblematic of how the people for whom the area was designed are now being pushed out.

The homeless have abandoned downtown LA's Skid Row for Venice Beach where a city of tents are set up on the sand and along the boardwalk

BEFORE & AFTER: The homeless have abandoned downtown LA’s Skid Row for Venice Beach where a city of tents are set up on the sand and along the boardwalk

BEFORE & AFTER: The area of Venice Beach is now riddled with crime, making the area less appealing for locals and tourists
BEFORE & AFTER: The area of Venice Beach is now riddled with crime, making the area less appealing for locals and tourists

BEFORE & AFTER: The area of Venice Beach is now riddled with crime, making the area less appealing for locals and tourists – and looks much different than it once did in 2015

Wearing a blue hoodie emblazoned with a picture of Marilyn Monroe, scowling, middle-aged Betty was deeply engrossed in a conversation with herself. Then she started harassing cyclists by standing in the middle of the path and shaking a ceramic coffee cup at them, forcing at least one off into the sand

Wearing a blue hoodie emblazoned with a picture of Marilyn Monroe, scowling, middle-aged Betty was deeply engrossed in a conversation with herself. Then she started harassing cyclists by standing in the middle of the path and shaking a ceramic coffee cup at them, forcing at least one off into the sand

'I can't even walk my dog or go bike riding along the Venice Beach bike path anymore, one longtime Venice resident said. 'It's too scary and just too violent'

‘I can’t even walk my dog or go bike riding along the Venice Beach bike path anymore, one longtime Venice resident said. ‘It’s too scary and just too violent’

DailyMail.com found syringes — one with a needle still attached — nestling in the sand in a children's play area

DailyMail.com found syringes — one with a needle still attached — nestling in the sand in a children’s play area

Ian (right), a bearded 35-year-old, said he ran two successful businesses in Long Beach and had a private pilot's license before suffering an injury at 29 and losing everything.

Ian (right), a bearded 35-year-old, said he ran two successful businesses in Long Beach and had a private pilot’s license before suffering an injury at 29 and losing everything. ‘I can understand why people don’t want us here,’ Ian told DailyMail.com. ‘But don’t blame us for everything. I didn’t turn your son into a drug addict. I didn’t turn your daughter into a prostitute. I didn’t steal your bicycle’

The homeless population has mushroomed in Venice. A count in 2014 showed only 175 people living rough. Five years later that figure stood at more than 1,200. But it is over the last few months that things have spiraled out of control

The homeless population has mushroomed in Venice. A count in 2014 showed only 175 people living rough. Five years later that figure stood at more than 1,200. But it is over the last few months that things have spiraled out of control

A parent told DailyMail.com, 'No one wants to have a birthday party at the beach or in a park and be confronted with needles and human feces. And that's saying nothing about the possibility of criminal acts or a mentally unstable individual'

A parent told DailyMail.com, ‘No one wants to have a birthday party at the beach or in a park and be confronted with needles and human feces. And that’s saying nothing about the possibility of criminal acts or a mentally unstable individual’

‘I can’t even walk my dog or go bike riding along the Venice Beach bike path anymore, longtime Venice resident Heather Sullivan said. ‘It’s too scary and just too violent.

‘We have had numerous dog thefts and it’s just heartbreaking and many of the animals in these encampments are not treated well.’

Another young woman who asked for anonymity for her own safety added: ‘There’s violence, screaming, fighting and open drug use with needles littered on the ground,’ one young mom told DailyMail.com.

‘I call the police probably twice a day. It’s like a full-time job.’

The mom showed DailyMail.com a video she shot of a fight that broke out close to her home two blocks from the beach that showed three homeless man — one armed with a long piece of wood —viciously pummeling another as he lay on the ground.

Another parent added: ‘No one wants to have a birthday party at the beach or in a park and be confronted with needles and human feces. And that’s saying nothing about the possibility of criminal acts or a mentally unstable individual.

‘Families just aren’t going to plan activities in these places any longer.’

Those living in the tent cities are there for an untold number of reasons. 

Ian, a bearded 35-year-old wearing a sherpa-lined Asian print jacket to protect himself from the gray May day, said he ran two successful businesses in Long Beach and had a private pilot’s license.

‘Then I had a massive heart attack when I was 29 and I couldn’t work anymore.’

Many, like Betty, clearly have mental problems — soon after the wood-chucking incident, she got in the face of a young woman jogger shouting ‘Hag’ at her. Then she started harassing cyclists by standing in the middle of the path and shaking a ceramic coffee cup at them, forcing at least one off into the sand. Clearly, she was in no fit state to understand that bike riders are among the least likely to have spare change jangling in their skin-tight shorts.

Crime where the suspect was listed as homeless has risen by 31 percent in Venice over the past year, according to police statistics, analyzed by NBC News . Homeless victims of crime rose by 83 percent in the same period

Crime where the suspect was listed as homeless has risen by 31 percent in Venice over the past year, according to police statistics, analyzed by NBC News . Homeless victims of crime rose by 83 percent in the same period

Paraphernalia, including a phone, Holy Bible, phone case and DOS For Dummies book are seen strewn on the beach

Paraphernalia, including a phone, Holy Bible, phone case and DOS For Dummies book are seen strewn on the beach  

One mom showed DailyMail.com a video she shot of a fight that broke out close to her home two blocks from the beach that showed three homeless man — one armed with a long piece of wood —viciously pummeling another as he lay on the ground

One mom showed DailyMail.com a video she shot of a fight that broke out close to her home two blocks from the beach that showed three homeless man — one armed with a long piece of wood —viciously pummeling another as he lay on the ground

One mom showed DailyMail.com a video she shot of a fight that broke out close to her home two blocks from the beach that showed three homeless man — one armed with a long piece of wood —viciously pummeling another as he lay on the ground

'We see fights almost daily. There is drug use out in the open, there is semi nudity as they urinate and defecate under a tree. We've had our bikes stolen, there's fires, there's needles everywhere, and the kids at the school are exposed to it all,' one resident said

‘We see fights almost daily. There is drug use out in the open, there is semi nudity as they urinate and defecate under a tree. We’ve had our bikes stolen, there’s fires, there’s needles everywhere, and the kids at the school are exposed to it all,’ one resident said 

Cops sweep through on a regular basis, more to show they are a presence than to actually make arrests, say business owners on Ocean Front Walk,­ the official name of the boardwalk

Cops sweep through on a regular basis, more to show they are a presence than to actually make arrests, say business owners on Ocean Front Walk,­ the official name of the boardwalk

The near-mile-long stretch of boardwalk where the encampment has sprouted is far from the only tent city in Venice. Quiet residential streets are lined with grimy camper vans

The near-mile-long stretch of boardwalk where the encampment has sprouted is far from the only tent city in Venice. Quiet residential streets are lined with grimy camper vans

Many people in the area are considering moving as the authorities seem unable to do anything about the homeless— but property prices have dropped by anything between 10 and 30 percent, so a move may not be economically viable

Many people in the area are considering moving as the authorities seem unable to do anything about the homeless— but property prices have dropped by anything between 10 and 30 percent, so a move may not be economically viable

'We have people shooting up in front of the school, playing loud music all day, yelling at each other, hitting thing, fighting. These people are not in need of beds. They need help and leaving them to do whatever they want on the sidewalk across the street from our neighborhood school is outrageous,' said one mother

‘We have people shooting up in front of the school, playing loud music all day, yelling at each other, hitting thing, fighting. These people are not in need of beds. They need help and leaving them to do whatever they want on the sidewalk across the street from our neighborhood school is outrageous,’ said one mother 

‘I can understand why people don’t want us here,’ Ian told DailyMail.com. ‘But don’t blame us for everything. I didn’t turn your son into a drug addict. I didn’t turn your daughter into a prostitute. I didn’t steal your bicycle.’

Most residents in ultra-liberal Venice are kind to the homeless, he said. Volunteer groups such as Drive-By Do-Gooders help out bringing food, water, feminine products and tarps to make life a little bit more comfortable.

‘It’s not like Long Beach which was my special kind of hell,’ said Ian. ‘Here it’s more like an outdoor psychiatric ward.’

The near-mile-long stretch of boardwalk where the encampment has sprouted is far from the only tent city in Venice. Quiet residential streets are lined with grimy camper vans. Public parks are now filled with shabby tents. Even the Ballona Wetlands, a critical stopover for migrating birds, has its own encampment, which environmentalists fear could destroy the fragile habitat as raw sewage is dumped in its waters.

The homeless population has mushroomed in Venice. A count in 2014 showed only 175 people living rough. Five years later that figure stood at more than 1,200. But it is over the last few months that things have spiraled out of control.

Fires are a major problem. Blazes linked to homelessness have shot up threefold in the three years since Los Angeles Fire Department officials have been logging them. Seven people died last year in the city and property damage shot into the millions of dollars.

A wildfire raging in Topanga Canyon, north of downtown LA started near a homeless encampment and officials say it was started deliberately. Two people have been arrested in connection with the fire which has so far destroyed more than 1,300 acres.

One blaze destroyed a cute little one-story home a couple of blocks from Venice Beach, just across the street from both a pre-school and an elementary school, killing Togo, owner Courtney Gillenwater’s eight-month-old husky mix, as DailyMail.com revealed exclusively. An official determination has yet to be made, but neighbors have no doubt as to the cause.

‘My main concern now, and even before the fire, is the health and safety violations going on right in front of these schools,’ said one neighbor, who asked not to be identified for her own safety.

‘We see fights almost daily. There is drug use out in the open, there is semi nudity as they urinate and defecate under a tree. We’ve had our bikes stolen, there’s fires, there’s needles everywhere, and the kids at the school are exposed to it all.

‘It is obvious that wherever you allow these encampments, violence and criminal activity will follow,’ said the mother of two young children.

She also pointed to a graffiti-covered van parked directly outside the preschool, the Westminster Early Education Center. ‘It has its gasoline-powered generator running 24 hours a day pushing out fumes. If that were to go up in flames, I dread to think what damage it would cause.’

A  masked Paul Hogan sent a stern warning to the the homeless community in his crime-stricken Los Angeles neighbourhood on Sunday by pinning a note to his front door that said: 'THIS IS MY HOUSE NOT YOURS'

'Where Paul lives in hell on earth,' Hogan's neighbour Tyler Proctor, a local politician, recently told Woman's Day magazine

Crocodile Dundee actor Paul Hogan sent a stern warning to the the homeless community in his crime-stricken Venice Beach neighbourhood on Sunday by pinning a note to his front door that said: ‘THIS IS MY HOUSE NOT YOURS’

The tent city itself has its dramas just like any other human settlement. Earlier this month a 30-year-old woman from Virginia gave birth in one of the oceanfront camps, the Venice Current reported

The tent city itself has its dramas just like any other human settlement. Earlier this month a 30-year-old woman from Virginia gave birth in one of the oceanfront camps, the Venice Current reported

Last month a tent was deliberately set on fire. One local woman talks of how she was chased by a man with a sword

Last month a tent was deliberately set on fire. One local woman talks of how she was chased by a man with a sword

The Venice boardwalk is still a must-see for many visiting Los Angeles from across the country and the world. 'I expected it to be funky, but wasn't quite expecting this,' said Anne Davies, 36, in from Ohio. 'Would I come back? I don't think so. I've seen it once, I've smelt it. I don't think I need to do it again'

The Venice boardwalk is still a must-see for many visiting Los Angeles from across the country and the world. ‘I expected it to be funky, but wasn’t quite expecting this,’ said Anne Davies, 36, in from Ohio. ‘Would I come back? I don’t think so. I’ve seen it once, I’ve smelt it. I don’t think I need to do it again’

A homeless man was shot and injured on April 28. The gunman calmly walked away. The victim is not cooperating with police

A homeless man was shot and injured on April 28. The gunman calmly walked away. The victim is not cooperating with police

The encampments are creeping ever closer to the famed picturesque Venice Canals. One resident there is presidential son Hunter Biden who rents a house for $17,500 a month

The encampments are creeping ever closer to the famed picturesque Venice Canals. One resident there is presidential son Hunter Biden who rents a house for $17,500 a month 

Crime where the suspect was listed as homeless has risen by 31 percent in Venice over the past year, according to police statistics, analyzed by NBC News. Homeless victims of crime rose by 83 percent in the same period.

Many people in the area are considering moving as the authorities seem unable to do anything — but property prices have dropped by anything between 10 and 30 percent, so a move may not be economically viable.

Crocodile Dundee star Paul Hogan, warned the homeless away. 'This is my house, not yours,' he wrote on a note he posted on the gate of his $3.5 million home

Crocodile Dundee star Paul Hogan, warned the homeless away. ‘This is my house, not yours,’ he wrote on a note he posted on the gate of his $3.5 million home

One person who found that out for himself is South Park creator Matt Stone. He put his house on the market last year for a shade under $4.5 million. He eventually sold it for $3.5 million, just $250,000 more than he had paid way back in 2005, leaving him with a profit of less than half of one percent per year. The average house price in the United States rose by 41 percent in that 16-year period.

Maybe Stone, 49, is partly to blame for pointing out the homeless issue himself. A 2007 South Park episode foresaw the problem saying southern California was too good to the homeless, with Eric Cartman singing: ‘In the city of Venice, right by Matt’s house, you can chill if you’re homeless,’ to the tune of 2Pac’s California Love.

Another affected celebrity is Crocodile Dundee star Paul Hogan, who complained that he is homesick and desperate to return to his native Australia but doesn’t want to go through two weeks Covid quarantine. ‘I ‘m like a kangaroo in a Russian zoo, I don’t belong here,’ he said.

On Sunday Hogan, 81, warned the homeless away. ‘This is my house, not yours,’ he wrote on a note he posted on the gate of his $3.5 million home

The encampments are creeping ever closer to the famed picturesque Venice Canals. One resident there is presidential son Hunter Biden who rents a house for $17,500 a month. Secret Service officers sitting outside have to contend with the stench from a small encampment on the other side of a parking lot.

The tent city itself has its dramas just like any other human settlement. Earlier this month a 30-year-old woman from Virginia gave birth in one of the oceanfront camps, the Venice Current reported. 

A homeless man was shot and injured on April 28. The gunman calmly walked away. The victim is not cooperating with police. Earlier the same week a tent was deliberately set on fire. One local woman talks of how she was chased by a man with a sword.

Cops sweep through on a regular basis, more to show they are a presence than to actually make arrests, say business owners on Ocean Front Walk,­ the official name of the boardwalk.

Erik Laykin, a lifelong Angeleno whose family moved here in the 1890s, has come up with a plan to build five or six complexes nationwide, each housing some 50,000 homeless. 'This is a national problem, not a local issue,' he told DailyMail.com. It plagues the whole country'

 Erik Laykin, a lifelong Angeleno whose family moved here in the 1890s, has come up with a plan to build five or six complexes nationwide, each housing some 50,000 homeless. ‘This is a national problem, not a local issue,’ he told DailyMail.com. It plagues the whole country’

Laykin, 56, founder of a group called Homeless Help America, believes there are plenty of decommissioned military bases across the country that could fill the need. 'They already have the infrastructure, the roads, the plumbing, the electricity,' he said.

Laykin, 56, founder of a group called Homeless Help America, believes there are plenty of decommissioned military bases across the country that could fill the need. ‘They already have the infrastructure, the roads, the plumbing, the electricity,’ he said.

Business has dropped off for the restaurants, bars and T-shirt shops that are the staples of the boardwalk. But it is too early to say how much that has been due to the pandemic and how much is due to tourists staying clear after hearing how the homeless have taken over

Business has dropped off for the restaurants, bars and T-shirt shops that are the staples of the boardwalk. But it is too early to say how much that has been due to the pandemic and how much is due to tourists staying clear after hearing how the homeless have taken over

'My main concern now, and even before the fire, is the health and safety violations going on right in front of these schools,' said one neighbor, who asked not to be identified for her own safety

‘My main concern now, and even before the fire, is the health and safety violations going on right in front of these schools,’ said one neighbor, who asked not to be identified for her own safety

Fires have become a major problem. Blazes linked to homelessness have shot up threefold in the three years since Los Angeles Fire Department officials have been logging them

Fires have become a major problem. Blazes linked to homelessness have shot up threefold in the three years since Los Angeles Fire Department officials have been logging them

Business has dropped off for the restaurants, bars and T-shirt shops that are the staples of the boardwalk. But it is too early to say how much that has been due to the pandemic and how much is due to tourists staying clear after hearing how the homeless have taken over.

‘We need help,’ one shop owner told DailyMail.com, asking for anonymity for fear of reprisals. ‘But the city does nothing for businesses. They are more worried about getting sued for taking some piece of crap from one of the tents.’

Politicians are increasingly feeling the pressure to do something — anything — to control the numbers of homeless in Venice.

Los Angeles Councilmember Mike Bonin, whose district covers Venice Beach came up with plans to build new ‘tiny homes’ close to state beaches. ‘These are not encampments. They are an emergency response — an alternative — to encampments, and they are temporary solutions meant to get people off the streets and into homes,’ he wrote his constituents in an email.

But as one of his plans was to use a parking lot at the picturesque Will Rogers State Beach — where Baywatch and many other TV shows and movies were filmed — Bonin’s idea has set off its own firestorm with some 20,000 Angelenos signing a petition opposing his plan.

Another camp would be at Dockweiler Beach, a piece of sand directly under the LAX flightpath where planes shatter the peace every couple of minutes as they take off for destinations around the world.

Ted Lieu, the Democratic congressman who represents the area in Washington, is calling for a national answer. ‘This is not just a problem for our state or region,’ he said last year as he introduced his Prevent Homelessness Act, which would create a $500 million Housing Stabilization Fund with the aim of stopping people becoming homeless in the first place.

Erik Laykin, a lifelong Angeleno whose family moved here in the 1890s, has come up with a plan to build five or six complexes nationwide, each housing some 50,000 homeless. ‘This is a national problem, not a local issue,’ he told DailyMail.com. It plagues the whole country.’

Laykin, 56, founder of a group called Homeless Help America, believes there are plenty of decommissioned military bases across the country that could fill the need. ‘They already have the infrastructure, the roads, the plumbing, the electricity,’ he said.

‘We obviously cannot compel people to go. It’s a free country,’ said Laykin, who lives in the Westchester district of LA, southwest of Venice, where the centerpiece Westchester Park has been taken over by the homeless.

‘But we can compel people not to sleep in the park and in front of storefronts.’

Angry Venice residents boo City Councilman Mike Bonin as he spoke about the Palisades Fire news conference on May 17 at Will Rogers State Beach, one of his proposed sites for a homeless camp

Angry Venice residents boo City Councilman Mike Bonin as he spoke about the Palisades Fire news conference on May 17 at Will Rogers State Beach, one of his proposed sites for a homeless camp

‘We need help,’ one shop owner told DailyMail.com, asking for anonymity for fear of reprisals. ‘But the city does nothing for businesses. They are more worried about getting sued for taking some piece of crap from one of the tents’

'We obviously cannot compel people to go. It's a free country,' said Laykin, who lives in the Westchester district of LA, southwest of Venice, where the centerpiece Westchester Park has been taken over by the homeless. 'But we can compel people not to sleep in the park and in front of storefronts'

‘We obviously cannot compel people to go. It’s a free country,’ said Laykin, who lives in the Westchester district of LA, southwest of Venice, where the centerpiece Westchester Park has been taken over by the homeless. ‘But we can compel people not to sleep in the park and in front of storefronts’

These are all long-term plans. But it’s the short term that concerns residents and business owners in the area.

‘We have people shooting up in front of the school, playing loud music all day, yelling at each other, hitting thing, fighting. These people are not in need of beds. They need help and leaving them to do whatever they want on the sidewalk across the street from our neighborhood school is outrageous,’ said the mom who shot the fight video.

Yet the Venice boardwalk is still a must-see for many visiting Los Angeles from across the country and the world. ‘I expected it to be funky, but wasn’t quite expecting this,’ said Anne Davies, 36, in from Ohio.

‘Would I come back? I don’t think so. I’ve seen it once, I’ve smelt it. I don’t think I need to do it again.’

And that, says Erik Laykin, is the problem. ‘Venice Beach has always been edgy, that’s part of its appeal, it’s a funky, unique environment where the ultra-wealthy coexist with people bootstrapping it.

‘Tourism is a big part of LA, but people are now reading about this all over the world and they’re thinking ‘I’m not going to Los Angeles, I’ll go to the South of France instead for my vacation.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk