VENICE- On April 14th, Venice Community Housing's latest development, at the site of its offices at 720 Rose Avenue in Venice, opened. According to VCHC's Facebook Page, the facility will welcome 34 new households into its 4 one-bedroom and 30 studio apartments. Seventeen units will be for youth ages 18-24 and 17 units for those over the age of 25. According to City documents, rents range between $548 and $913 per month. The building was designed by noted local architects, Brooks + Scarpa, and built at a cost of $20.6 million.
The Rose Avenue Apartments is one of three permanent supportive housing developments scheduled to open in Venice over the next few years. The other two -- the Lincoln Apartments (also a VCHC project) at the site of the Safe Place for Youth's Offices and the Thatcher Yard project at the site of a former Oxford Triangle maintenance yard -- broke ground this year. Once open, they will permanently house over 200 individuals, making Venice, with just 30,000 residents in about 3 square miles, the location of the largest number of newly constructed permanent supportive housing units of any West Los Angeles neighborhood. In addition, People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) own and operate a 33-unit Project Homekey facility at the site of a refurbished, former Venice motel on Washington Boulevard which also opened this year.
Despite this, VCHC's Executive Director, Becky Dennison, was recently quoted about what she called "intense neighborhood opposition to any homeless housing projects over the last few decades" in Venice, calling residents "segregationists" and "worse than NIMBY's".
Three of the first residents of the Rose Apartments were selected from the Venice Bridge Home, the 154 bed, $8 million transitional housing facility at Main Street and Sunset in Venice that opened in February, 2020.
One of those new residents, SumIyya Evans, gives her age as "over 65" and had lived at the Bridge Home for two years. As she pedaled her bicycle into the Bridge Home for her interview, regaled in a yellow headscarf, black embroidered shawl and multi-colored, painted sneakers, she crowed about her experience taking a shower in her new apartment at 3am the night before.
Evans left her home in Oregon at 12, and was homeless for roughly a decade before becoming, in her words, "successful" -- raising two young sons, acquiring her GED, and running sober social clubs. In sobriety, she said, she "met a few Muslims...and was just really drawn to it, and started reading the Holy Quran and tried to adopt some of their principles. What did they say? 'Take what's worth keeping then throw the rest away.'"
But then, as she put it, "a lot of trauma happened to me", including the suicide of the man with whom she was living and a fire in the building in which she was living.
"I asked for help, " she recalled. "I had a hearing impairment…and ended up on opiates. And now it's 25 years later and I've been destabilized or homeless for 20 to 25 years. But I have been sober for the last four years."
Over the course of her life she had "been to Venice several times. Back and forth trying to cope with being homeless. How did I end up here after being so successful in my own home?...I just love the vibe and it seemed to be the only place that I felt I fit in. I sought help from Daybreak, a woman's place in Santa Monica. But when 9/11 happened, I really spiraled under. I had been studying Islam as a religion of peace. And that's when I started using heroin in place of the pills that I had been prescribed. Long story short, I just knew I could sleep outside here."
In the spring of 2020, two of what she calls "the coolest police officers I had ever encountered in 25 years" persuaded Evans (by then so traumatized she was completely non-verbal, communicating only in writing) to enter the Bridge Home. "I was like the next to last person that got in here before the lockdown of COVID. So I made it just by the hair of my senior citizen chin hair."
Adults over 25 at the Bridge Home are managed by PATH. Evans was assigned a case worker and, perhaps most importantly, had a number of longstanding health issues addressed by doctors at the Venice Family Clinic, who are at the facility one day a week. These included her hearing impairments, which over the years had been misdiagnosed. Eventually, she became verbal again, including a few angry outbursts at staff members, who met them with smiles of relief that Evans had recovered her voice. She later apologized.
She began a meditation practice, and was able to adhere to her vegan diet. Covid vaccinations were not mandated, but vaccine clinics happened on a regular basis and those that got their shots were rewarded with $20 gift cards. During the summer of 2021, the Venice Bridge Home experienced the largest Covid outbreak of any of Los Angeles's Bridge Housing facilities. As a vulnerable senior, Evans was offered a Project Roomkey placement in a local hotel. But she turned it down.
"I was just happy to be somewhere safe," she said, noting that the Bridge Home has a strict, no-violence policy. "That's what I love about these guys. If you strike out with any kind of violence, you're out of here." A staff member verified that interpersonal, physical violence is, in fact, the only activity for which Bridge Home residents are evicted.
Evans said she's made a few friends at the Bridge Home, "but I think at my new place, I'm gonna do a lot better because in my life, I've had a really hard time making and keeping friends. I can get really close to people in a group for, like, half an hour. But then I'm alone again. But I think because I've got support at this new place, and that the people there are going to be there for a while that I will feel more able to trust that it's not somebody that's going to abandon me." She already has plans to make use of the community garden, and advise her fellow residents on composting and vegan cooking. And she's hopeful she can reunite with family. One of her sons is currently living in Mexico and seems happy. But "nobody knows" where her oldest son, now 45, is living. Like his mother, he has also struggled with addiction and is currently homeless. Evans hopes to reunite with the two children he's left behind. "I never felt good enough to be around them before and I want to be in the Venice Electric Light Parade with them."
According to PATH, as of February of this year, just 50 of the 189 residents of Bridge Home had found permanent housing. 40 have been ejected, and 75 have left voluntarily. Meanwhile, the area around the facility has seen an 88% increase in violent crime, and is lined with encampments.
The future of the facility is uncertain. When it was first proposed, in 2018, Councilman Bonin insisted it would "last a maximum of three years" and, according to Metro, a decision on a future developer for the former Metro Yard will come by the end of this year.
As for Evans, her advice for dealing with the homelessness crisis is simple: just listen, without authority or judgment. Although she's known for many years that sobriety and hope are essential to overcoming homelessness, she says it's important to engage in a "regular old conversation…Just like sitting down with people and listening, establishing that relationship with no expectations from them at all, except I care about you."
Editor's note: A previous version of this story said that the Venice Neighborhood Council approved the Lincoln apartments. They did not, the council unanimously opposed the project.