USC School of Social Work first year graduate students from Judge Ralph Fertig's class went on "community immersion" to Venice Beach, an infamous neighborhood on the west side of Los Angeles, CA. Our intent is to share with the blogosphere our experience of this city, its inhabitants, and the social services. The second most favored travel destination in LA has its muscle beach and poverty, expensive homes and mobile home-lessness, art festivals and graffiti. The first rate social services in
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While walking on Venice beach we did not observe many structural boundaries. The houses located on the beach walk did not have large fences or gates to separate them from the beach walk. However, the vendors on the beach walk had a painted square on the ground that separated them from the other vendors. In addition, Rose Street was a boundary that divided the city of Santa Monica from the city of Venice. Things were a little different in the Oakwood Community. While walking into the residential areas of Oakwood, one would notice that there was a variety of working-class and high-class homes built close together. There was a boundary set for each home with a high fence surrounding the entire property. One would notice that the higher the price of the home, the higher the fence was. Some homes were not visible at all because of the height of the fence, which were sometimes covered with vines.
When an outsider views Venice beach they see a very weird place. There are many different characters walking around that do not act “normal”. There are homeless people who will try to get your attention. Venice seems like a very good place to walk around and do some shopping. As an outsider walking down the quiet streets of Oakwood, one would feel very isolated and not welcomed by the people who live in the community. Because of the high fences, one would feel that they could not come to community members for help in times of need.
The people who actually live on Venice Beach view it as a gem that should never be changed. They do not fear for their safety because they know the homeless and the vendors. Most of the residents of Venice Beach really enjoy the diversity and have lived there for a long time. Those who live in the Oakwood community know each other and seem to work together to help each other out. Those who have lived there for years seem to communicate with each other well and strive to get to know each other. However, those that are new to the community may be cautious because they are not as familiar with the social networks that have been formed.
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Neighborhood boundaries not only affect where one has the right to sleep and commune in the city of Venice, but they also have a great effect on the aid that one in need is able to receive. From an outsider’s perspective, mutual aid is almost invisible. The majority of aid is located in the heart of the city, however the majority of the homeless and impoverished are found in the outskirts of Venice. For those in need, the aid is not only hard to find, but limited. The
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Service agencies abound the ocean front walk of
To outsiders, agencies supporting beaches and blocks look like VFC and
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Teresa Skinner of the LAPD helps give insight on issues of social control in the community of
According to the Venice Community Housing Corporation, it is illegal convert space into homes without strict inspection, a practice referred to as bootleg housing. Inspections are made of every rental unit every few years and inspectors order owners to remove the converted living spaces even though there is a shortage of affordable housing in the community. Affordable housing is becoming scarce on the Westside, especially
Parking has been a topic of great controversy in the
From an outsider perspective,
However, as Mona Davis, a life time resident and activist in
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Outsiders view Venice as a community of misfits, beach bums, art and diversity. Insiders offer a different perspective. At times Venice is a polarized community, but there is an underlying sense of connectedness to the community and its culture. Social networks in Venice facilitate this interconnectedness of the community of Venice . Here are a few examples:
• Farmer’s markets can be a place of social gathering. In Venice many have been replaced by Ralph's and Whole Foods.
• There are some spiritual networks in Venice, such as the Friendship Baptist Church in Oakwood.
• Community Centers in Venice offer a place of social networking and enjoyment for all ages.
• The Boys & Girls Club of Venice is an important social network for youth in Venice. Membership is only $14 a year and is accessible to anyone regardless of their ability to pay.
• Oakwood is defined by its history. Immigrants and African Americans form the main networks in the Oakwood community within Venice.
• Venice Shoreline Crips, an African American gang, and Venice 13, a Latino gang, have made a name for themselves as the main ethno-centered networks within the Venice community.
• The homeless population has established themselves as a social network on the beaches of Venice. A network within this network are those who refer to themselves as “travelers”.
• Bread and Roses is not your traditional soup kitchen. St. Joseph Center runs an intimate café where the homeless enjoy gathering for a nutritious meal and socializing.
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Graffiti can be found everywhere, among murals, multimillion dollar homes, and around the beach. Many new houses and a few older houses have bars on the windows and doors. The homes also have high gates and fences, closing them off to the rest of the community, in particular the homeless. To an outsider, security and safety are obviously a concern. Many of the newer residents voice their concerns about the safety of the community, as explained by our group leader, Mona Davis.
Civic engagement is a vital resource in the community. A couple of the main resources are Officer Theresa Skinner and The Vera Davis McClendon Youth and
Those fighting to help people in need, including the homeless, are a collective of agencies, community centers, clinics, and individuals. Sharing a common fate, this group must engage with new and old residents in order to establish and maintain harmony among community members.
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There are many assets in the community, especially for the homeless community.
Family Clinics: They provide free medical treatment to the homeless and lower income families. This facility is the largest free clinic in the nation! I thought it was amazing to be present in a facility that seemed well established. They are known “to turn no one away!” During our meeting, the clinic appears to have a strong sense of collaboration with different agencies like the local police and community housing corporations (just to name a few). The clinic seems to be well knowledgeable about their homeless issues and they present as though they have strong sense of unity. It sounds like the homeless people have “got it made” in Venice with this place on their side. Venice
- Alice White Theatre: Introduced by activist
-this supports acting for children. Hayward : Services for homeless, low income families, and individuals. They provide but not limited to child care, food, and counseling services St. Joseph Center : services for youth. The facility is a place where the youth/adolescents in the community can come and utilize resources. They can get free books to job referrals. Vera Davis McClendon Center
There are many risks in the community…homelessness, locals “slanging” and using drugs, and gang problems. The homelessness is caused and is a result of many social dysfunctions. Many say Homelessness is a product of our failed methods in the community. Another contributing factor to homelessness is gentrification. Many affluent people were attracted to buying housing in the community many years ago because of the perks of purchasing cheap houses near the beach. Many affluent people took advantage of this perk and thus causing gentrification. Gentrification causes an imbalance in affordable housing thus contributing to the homelessness. Recently the gang issues are not that prevalent. The gangs wars have softened up compare to strong gang wars in the early ninety’s, but there are still some strong traces. According to the panel of community leaders, there were many people dying from gang shootings and gang retaliation wars back in the early nineties. Some of the gang issues were between Shoreline Crips and
Listed are some of the main themes of the risks in the community:
- Because of the strong gang violence and drug problems that surfaced from the 1940 and 1960s there are strong drug issues today in the community.
- Out of work residents supply and sell drugs in the community.
- Gentrification-squeezing out locals causing many to be homeless.
- Gentrification causing local small business rent--making it too expensive to run—people are shopping at the bigger stores like Ralphs
- Aesthetically--Many of the homes in Oakwood have high fences creating a sense of un-welcomeness
- No convalescent homes-where do the elders go when they are too old to care for themselves.
Due to the Gentrification—housing has become extremely unaffordable. More and More affluent people are moving into the community and are trying to rid of the local homeless population because they are trying to “clean the streets” due to this “not in my backyard” mentality many of the affluent and new people in the community do not want to help the homeless services. They believe by helping the local homeless services they are supporting the homeless in their community.
Outside Perspective of Assets:
It is popular tour site as well as Southern Californian attraction in
Venice Boardwalk includes some of the most interesting people such as many performers and vendors. Like any other communities nearby beach areas,
Insider Perspectives of Risks:
The homeless are huge trademark for the locals. The homeless the community knows are usually quiet and keep to themselves. There are different types of homeless people. If you talk to a homeless person you can find different types of stories of lost dreams and lost hope. According to Fertig’s statistics 41 percent of the homeless are women and children. On the flip side you might find some homeless people that choose to be homeless and like living in the streets and/or cars. But many seem unhappy and want to get out of the cycle, but cannot…because they are stuck in their struggles. One of the homeless people told us a story about one homeless found dead in the sand a few month ago. Also, I was informed that the Blank and Latino gangs have conflicts time to time living across the streets in Venice, but not as invasive as in the early nineties. Neighborhood of
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We talked to many people who lived and worked in
From an outsider’s perspective, Venice is an eclectic community, home to a wide range of populations living in curious harmony. Before our walkabout, our experience with Venice was limited to a handful of visits to the boardwalk and beach community. The entire community of Venice is roughly only a modest square mile, boasting nearly 16 miles of man made canals fashioned after Venice, Italy. On the beach a colorful array of people can be seen living in cohesion. This time, we spent a day in the neighborhood known as Oakwood, just inland from the beach. By walking through the neighborhoods we were given a more intimate insight to the community. This aspect of the community painted a far different picture than the one we had experienced at the beach. Although still flooded with diversity, the inland neighborhood of Oakwood revealed a less accepting and harmonious Venice. The harsh lines of gentrification can be plainly seen, even from the sidewalk; extravagant homes stand right next to low-income apartment complexes, new homes and condominiums next to derelict buildings. We were told of the struggle between the new comers and the old timers. Some long time residents feel that they are being kicked from their community, mostly for economic reasons. One shelter director mentioned that as many as 150 homeless can be seen on the streets of Venice on any given night, some of whom have lived there their entire lives. Others were pleased with the up and coming community, citing rising property values and cleaner streets and fewer drug infested areas. Those involved in real estate have made large profits, squeezing out those who cannot afford to keep their homes or pay their rent. Buildings that once housed low incomes families have been torn down and replaced with high end condominiums with fewer units. Understandably, long time residents have been greatly impacted, even those who have managed to stay in their homes.
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