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Homeless in Vehicles: Making a “Rights” Turn:

Much as we would rather not talk about it, America is a country with acute divisions of class. To quote the prophet Richard Nixon, “Now, more than ever.” Yes, we all came together for Obama. But now that we are “together” to that degree, we’re still a nation of painful economic disparities and wide schisms of class.

Next, let’s agree that when we began grouping all those who spend large amounts of time on the street under the umbrella “the homeless”, we may have distanced ourselves from more nuanced responses to their situation. That doesn’t mean the collective focus is wrong, but it may cause us to believe that a multi-faceted problem is less complex than it really is. While we’re at it, let’s free ourselves from the notion that the process of seeking solutions is somehow inherently “NIMBY” and solely predicated on a self-serving desire to relocate a problem rather than deal with it.

That said, is it wrong to point out that many literally living on the streets of Venice by means of sleeping in their parked vehicles are not “recreating” in RV’s, but seeking a location to live? If we’re good so far, then I’m going to pitch the “homeless ID card concept” once again, because I haven’t heard of something better since the last time we talked about these kinds of issues.

Some unpleasant realities about the current state of things: I have a close friend who used to have an art studio space at 4th and Sunset, one block south of Rose. The stretch of 4th in that area has long been an aged RV crossroads. The friend described to me at some length wanting to use the sidewalks to get to the studio by foot and finding that people literally had their “homes” on those walks. Noisy arguments, bathing, pan handling… as a pedestrian “the people were living in your face.” That my friend is female meant an added dimension of concern that anyone could be grabbed off the sidewalk and a person’s secured RV “home” was right there.

As a story in last week’s Mirror reported, a proposal for overnight parking permits (OPD’s) that would have restricted the hours non-permit bearing vehicles could park overnight had proponents who were pushing for action. Pushing because of problems with garbage, sewage, noise, and a lack of parking for residents due to what we might call “domicile vehicles” taking up spaces for 24 hours or longer.

But at a June 11 meeting of the Coastal Commission the OPD proposal was rejected. While the struggle over RV and truck “gypsies” will continue, the rejection seems to indicate a growing recognition that the situation does not have one simple solution.

In his inauguration speech, our new president made it clear that government must work hand in hand with “the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break.” I’m pretty sure he meant economic and hardship levees as well as the standard water-retaining type.

Many, but not all, Wal-Mart stores allow overnight parking in their lots by RV’s. When that favor is abused, RV parkers are kindly asked to move on. So while America’s largest retailer has agreed to “take in a stranger”, eventually everybody hits a wall.

Even if a local Wal-Mart would take them, it doesn’t solve anything to just relocate the Venice RV/vehicle domicile population. Seriously, Brentwood, Montana Avenue… it doesn’t. So I’m back with my card idea.

Everyone in this situation (Venice residents and RV people) has some amount of rights, and we can agree that parking spaces on any public street are technically a “resource” that compels democratic sharing. And it is generally accepted that any successful long-term assistance to a homeless constituency ultimately means some level of connectivity between the constituency and the agencies that manage resources.

So would it be wrong to insist (okay, enforce) that those wanting to use our resources of street parking in ways that are clearly different in nature because they are sleeping/living in their vehicles… be required to register their situation by means of having to obtain a card indicating their vehicle domicile status? All this sits on the presumption that people who live in cars and trucks don’t want to continue doing so, or that at least most of them don’t want to continue doing so.

The St. Joseph Center in Venice is working on a plan to provide permanent housing and supportive services for 40 homeless people identified as being in danger of dying on the street. These are people who will enter a system. If at some point Venice creates areas for vehicle domicile parking that are off the street, there would at least be a bare bones organizational framework to begin administrating it via the cards.

Registering, ID, connectivity… all admittedly can have the odious dimensions of a form of homeland “security.” But I don’t know what we’re doing next if we’re unwilling to at least bring our guests to the threshold of acknowledging their situations. We’ve all got “rights” inside of this. Yet something needs to change if we are to instigate the next dialogue, which begins “Okay, how can we help you?”

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