When I booked our sleek, modern studio with a private jacuzzi on Venice Beach’s famed Rose Avenue, I had no idea we would be vacationing smack in the midst of one of the biggest cultural clashes in the country. Rose Avenue– also known as “Skid Rose Ave”– is a jarring reminder of the homeless epidemic that has plagued Los Angeles County for years. The homeless population in L.A. is second only to that of New York City, but it looks vastly different.
In L.A.’s “beach cities”, established homeless communities have moved into upscale neighborhoods and set up camp alongside multi-million dollar beachfront condos. There are “tent cities” on the beach– small groups of crude structures built with mattresses, chairs and umbrellas for roofs.
The city’s recent and very controversial legislation that declared it no longer illegal to live in a vehicle, has resulted in an influx of transients in Venice Beach over the past few months. Brightly painted, broken down RVs are now parked in front of upscale homes and in public parking lots while the owners sleep inside wrapped in blankets.
In cities like New York and Philadelphia–except for the occasional guy holding a cardboard sign– it can be easy to ignore the issue of homelessness in the high-rent neighborhoods and downtown shopping districts. But in Venice Beach, you can’t walk to the local fair trade coffee shop, CVS or even to the beach without encountering at least a dozen homeless individuals. The majority of them aren’t even begging– they’re just there–as much of a part of the local vibe as the bright pop art murals and Mexican taco trucks.
My morning coffee runs provided ample opportunity to observe the relationship between the locals and the transients up close, and I was almost taken aback by the overwhelming indifference. One local barista laughed and shrugged his shoulders when I asked him about the three homeless men that had taken over one of the cafe’s coveted outdoor tables. “Yeah– that happens a lot,” he told me. “If it gets too busy in here, I just go kick them out.”
Places like L.A. are filled with the stories of those who risked everything in pursuit of stardom and ended up with a bucket of broken dreams instead. For the handful of starry-eyed teens that moved to Hollywood to become the next multi-platinum pop-star– and made it– there are thousands that don’t. And with no family and no support system in place, the world can get pretty harsh pretty fast. Factor in the super competitive job market, some bad advice and a few poor decisions…the rest of the story practically writes itself.
As I stood face to face with the sheer volume of need– living out in the open and right under my touristy nose– I felt overwhelmed and hopeless. This trip challenged my belief that in order to solve big problems, you have to focus on small, “bite-sized” changes. I preach daily the importance of avoiding macro-problem analysis and pursuing instead micro-solutions that deliver immediate and tangible impact. I wholly believe that small acts of kindness and love, consistently showing grace, and avoiding judgement whenever possible can make a huge difference in communities that are hurting– even in Venice Beach.