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 Venice are staffed by extraordinary people who love their eclectic community and the people to whom they serve.

submitted by: Stan Wipfli

General Demographics

Venice Beach is an extraordinary community. Known to many for its Muscle Beach, roller bladders cruising the boardwalk, canals reminiscent of Venice in Italy, artists, poets and the homeless. This eclectic neighborhood sitting between Santa Monica and Marina Del Rey is changing. Home values went from a median of $444, 000 (2000 Census) to a staggering $1,058,000 in today’s market. Recently the 99 Cent Store was converted into a Whole Foods, which is emblematic of transition and gentrification. The 99 Cent Store used to allow RV’s, and mobile homes park in their lot, today the lot was filled with Mercedes and Lexus’. With a population of 33,000, median age being 36 years old, and almost 65% Democratic it has held on to its liberal and youthful feel. 75% of the residents who live in Venice Beach are White, 22% are Latino, 6% Black, 4% Asian, .85% American Indian, .16% Pacific Islander, and 5% multi- racial. The city has first rate social services, numerous faith based organizations, and a strong community organization. There is a sense that this city may lose some of it’s charm due to an increasing number of multimedia wonks moving into Venice, capable of paying increasingly high prices for their homes and leaving many without affordable housing.

submitted by: Jane Kim and Stan Wipfli


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.
Outsider View
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.
Insiders View
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.

submitted by: Rosa Guerrero and Lois Swearington


Mutual Aid

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 Venice Community Hospital offers free health care appointments, but the wait can last up to 4 hours. St. Joseph’s café has free meals, but has limited seating. Despite the difficulty in attaining aid that arises from the inconvenient geographic location of agencies, those working in the agencies have an extensive amount of social capitol with other agencies throughout the Los Angeles area. If unable to provide immediate aid, the agencies in Venice do their best to connect those that need aid with others that can provide it. The major problem within the Venice community is not that the aid does not exist – though more is needed – but, that so many people, for various reasons, are unable to use it, don’t want to use it, or are so hopeless that they don’t think using it will have a positive outcome.

submitted by: Monique Chubbs and Katie Rojane

Local Facilities

Service agencies abound the ocean front walk of Venice beach. As a student walking down the boardwalk, you can’t help but notice how integrated everything is. From retail, to rehab all is found on the Venice boardwalk. Amidst the vast variety of street performers and tarot card readings, you come across The Phoenix House; one of the nation's leading non profit substance abuse prevention and treatment service organizations. A few feet down is the Pacific Jewish Center; an orthodox synagogue known as “The Shul on the Beach.” Around since the 1960‘s, the center offers Talmud and Torah studies once a week. As you continue walking down the board walk you’ll come to Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris and Hoffman LLP Attorneys at Law. Their company website attests a commitment to justice. Having these agencies located on Venice beach may a marketing jewel for an outsider visiting the famous southern California attraction. For an insider whose resources may be limited the agencies are buildings among buildings making the boardwalk the 'anything goes atmosphere' that it is…
To outsiders, agencies supporting beaches and blocks look like VFC and Saint Joseph’s new center, accessed via service alley or residential road, with exteriors that make the evening news or project proposals. But to those who put them on the map, the agencies’ real faces may be those of Bread and Roses and St. Joseph Homeless Center, accessed through non-descript entryways blending into a place of utter contrast, contradiction, yet potential. Shopping areas crop up along main streets, niche sites serving various tastes but small demographics. Community markets have given way to regional grocers, and premium chains; familiar and sufficient has become plentiful, but for whom? One long-time resident wonders if the chain will hire locally… Oakwood Street Park has no pool, few tables, and fewer trees; still, its grounds keeping outclass that at a school on Westminster. Little-improved sidewalks lead to San Juan at 6th, and the community’s first $1M home, both beacon and target. A library was replaced, for good cause, by the Vera Davis McClendon Center. Contributors take comfort knowing that, without a hospital, the area’s VFC gets high use, mostly by Seniors. The Taxi seen back at the clinic is the last sign of shared transport until a bus on Abbot Kinney. It truly seems as if the ‘complexion’ changes along this street - human and architectural. This may be a sign of regression rather than progress, as only true inclusiveness will brighten it up. Indeed, as one savvy, proud local says, “Venice is a great place to live, but has many problems.”

submitted by: Brian Batchelder and Maribel Munoz

Social Control

Teresa Skinner of the LAPD helps give insight on issues of social control in the community of Venice. She is a 14 year veteran of the force and describes a part of her position as a liaison between the community and police officers. Venice, once plagued with gang activities in the 80’s and 90’s, gang crime is now not at the top of the reported social control problems. Instead, she confirms that “95% of the issues that she oversees are with regard to the homeless”. Some of the homeless refuse shelter even if it is available because some are concerned about their animals which shelters and transitional housing cannot always accommodate. With regard to gang intervention, the Vera Davis McClendon Family Center, staffs gang interventionist specialists that help in intervening with vulnerable youth.

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 Venice which is experiencing gentrification like many other communities in southern California. Venice is the last remaining beach front areas on the Westside to transition to million dollar property values located between pricey Santa Monica and Marina del Rey. In addition, much of the new construction requires space available for parking and thus, decreases the ability to develop affordable housing. Also, the Mello Act requires that a portion of development projects within 1 mile of the coastal zone include affordable housing, however, this state law is not being enforced by the City of L.A.

Parking has been a topic of great controversy in the Venice community. The great debate has been between homeless individuals who park their RV’s and cars filled with their personal belonging and between the some of the residents who simply do not want them parked in front of their properties and homes because they are aesthetically unpleasing. Theresa Skinner (LAPD Senior lead officer in the area) said that the police department receives numerous complaints about homeless individuals parking in front of their homes for days. Continuous protesting by community members have led to new ordinances that state that a vehicle cannot stay in the same area for longer than 72hrs. People such as the officer Skinner who are there to serve are torn between residents who do not want homeless individuals in the area and the homeless individuals who do not have no where else to go and are not harming anyone by parking their Vehicle in the street. In reality, all individuals have to do is move their vehicle 6inches and technically they get another 72hrs in the spot. Easy said than done when one takes gas into consideration, which can be an expense many of these homeless individuals cannot meet.

Walking through Rose Ave. all the way down to the board walk one sees the diversity in this community. Everything from the trendy shop/home to the vacant uncared for lot. This community is mixed in their feelings about the homeless population. Some residents are very generous and feel compelled to help. Others simply do not want anything to do with the individuals and have done anything in their power to get ordinances adopted to make the lives of the homeless population in the area more difficult. Maybe it is because they feel that the growing resources for homeless individuals will attract more to the area and thus deteriorate the neighborhood and bring down property value? It’s a tough call to generalize whether the community really minds homelessness in the area. An example is William, a homeless man who lives a few yards away from the entrance of the Venice family clinic. In William’s case it seems by accounts, (from officer Skinner who know him very well )that he is embraced by his neighbors who bring him Starbucks coffee everyday, food, and even take his clothes home and wash it. In visiting this community one sees that there is no clear answer on how the majority feel only about the homeless in the area. The boardwalk itself gives a feel of the culture of its own Venice has. There, one can find many homeless individuals camping out, local residents enjoying a stroll down the boardwalk, or people dining at very nice restaurants. At the same time, there are abandoned graffiti filled boarded up buildings next to million dollar developments, next to mom and pop shop, followed by a campsite set up by someone homeless. What’s more interesting is that the boardwalk is home to the Phoenix house, a rehab center for drug users. After visiting this community one should realizes that Venice is what it is. Different from any other community in the city yet one that gives condenses all the different lives of Angelenos.

From an outsider perspective, Venice is known for its Beach with eclectic t-shirt vendors, souvenir shops, boardwalk, muscle beach and cafes to the trendy shops and cafes along Abbott Kinney Drive (founder of Venice). Venice was also the setting for the film “American History X” that describes the story of gangs on the Westside. Locals in the Southern California region are often cued to the thought of gangs on the Westside with the Venice 13 and Culver City gangs when mentioning Venice. This activity has been brought under some control in recent years as confirmed with Officer Skinner. None the less, persons who have purchased million dollar properties here in recent years seem to have become desensitized to the gang activities with the on going sounds of police helicopters overhead. The new residents building there million dollar homes have erected very high walls that fend off these issues.

However, as Mona Davis, a life time resident and activist in Venice suggests, “you may wonder what these affluent people are doing behind their big walled in properties”, properties that set next to small California bungalows owned by lifetime Venice residents. Inside the community, one observes the profound proportion of homeless that reside in Venice. Venice has agencies already mentioned in this blog that are committed to helping the diversity and socioeconomic status of residents of Venice. While walking along Rose Ave. the first day of Community Immersion, one could not deny noticing the number of police and emergency vehicles called to a situation of a citizen on this day. There were nearly two dozen emergency and law enforcement personnel on scene for this crisis.

submitted by: Tim Fischer and Cynthia Martinez

Social Networks

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.

submitted by: Patricia Carlos and Stacy Kahn

Identity, Civic Engagement, and Common Fate

Venice’s complex identity is evident in the beach-front area and its neighborhoods, in particular Oakwood. The residents of Venice come from various backgrounds, ranging from African American to Latinos to Caucasians. Venice was founded by a Caucasian man, Abbot Kinney. Venice was once a predominantly lower class African American neighborhood. Many of the residents worked for upper class Caucasians that lived in the Santa Monica area. After Kinney left his home to his African American chauffeur, Irving Tauber, the demographics of the community began to diversify. The Tauber house is no longer at its original location, but it serves as a memorial to the history of segregation in Oakwood, a traditionally working-class neighborhood. Venice also named a street in their community after Abbott Kinney.

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 Family Center. Officer Skinner’s role in the community is to be a liaison between the community and the police officers, most often handling issues of homelessness and complaints from residents. The Vera Davis McClendon Youth and Family Center provides the community with computer literacy courses and gang intervention specialists to keep youth and adults off the streets.

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.

submitted by: Erin Dowler and Maryam Jahanshi

Ballerina Clown by Jonathan Borofsky

Assets and Risks

There are many assets in the community, especially for the homeless community. Venice beach is a melting pot of Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, and Whites—this creates a strong diversity in the community. Diversity is good because it makes people more aware of different cultures of different ethnicities. During my “Team Fertig” group I have learned about many established resources for the homeless community. I will name some of the major agencies and/or facilities that our “Team Fertig” visited and explain how they are accessible to the community:

  • Venice 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.
  • Alice White Theatre: Introduced by activist Hayward-this supports acting for children.
  • St. Joseph Center: Services for homeless, low income families, and individuals. They provide but not limited to child care, food, and counseling services
  • Vera Davis McClendon 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.

People in Venice are known to have an artistic, poetic, and creative nature known as the “Beats Generation”. The beats were bohemian Hedonists, people that had untraditional antiestablishment lifestyles. Because of these early lifestyle influences the community was left with the traits of the Beat era from the 1940-1960s.

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 Venice 13 (to name a few). Today our group walked in Oakwood without the worries of being shot or killed by gang violence. Mona our “tour guide” (she works for Venice Family Clinics) walked us through the Oakwood communities and shared her stories of people slanging drug on the popular corner, 6th and Brooks. She also heard that even people in Paris new about this infamous corner.

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 Southern California.

Venice Boardwalk includes some of the most interesting people such as many performers and vendors. Like any other communities nearby beach areas, Venice community is well known for their beach. The boardwalk along the Venice beach seemed perfect place to enjoy, relax and exercise. Many vendors were selling their unique handmade goods which attracted many tourists. Also, Venice has been a place for several movie scenes and television shows. It is likely that more tourists are attracted to see those places. In addition, Venice is for the young artists, poets, and writers who just love the atmosphere of Venice, being vibrant and energetic.

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 Venice can be a dangerous place where many drug dealers live and gangs dwell.

submitted by: Stella Han and Eunyoung Kum

Insider Perspective

We talked to many people who lived and worked in Venice Beach, CA. Most of these people were committed to their community and had civic pride. For those who worked in social services there was a sense that more could be done for those in need. Many residents built protective fences around their properties, which gave the feeling of sheltered denizens, frightened to explore their own world renowned city. With median home prices at just over one million dollars there is fear from those who have lived in Venice for years that it will lose its eclectic appeal and become just another beach city for the privileged. It was hard not to notice the civic balancing act that seems to have cast a net over this neo-funky city. How will civic and community leaders maintain the eclectic while mcmansions are being built and their wealthy owners influencing policy?

Outsider Perspective

Venice Beach is the second biggest tourist attraction in Southern California, second to Disneyland. Venice Beach is the quintessential Los Angeles beach community. It is widely know for muscle beach, the boardwalk or strand along the beach where one can spend hours and people watch, you have your surfers, bars, artists. People come to Venice to enjoy this eclectic community which happens to abound a beautiful Southern California beach. One need only walk the boardwalk to notice that Venice has homeless, the Phoenix House (drug and alcohol Rehab), beach bathrooms that close in the evening due to drug related incidents. I’m sure it’s easy to turn a blind eye to the realities of this community but it also gives a sense of realism to this otherwise frivolous and colorful beach community.

Evidence of Diversity

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.

submitted by: Brittany Bovee, Shawna Campbell and Matthew Metcalf