Spotlight on Mike Bonin: A Champion to Combat Homelessness

joe bonin

Who is Mike Bonin? 

I usually don’t keep up with local politics – as a born and bred transplanted New Yorker it never occurred to me to really care about local Los Angeles politics or politicians. Although Los Angeles, and more specifically the city within the city of Beverly Hills, has been my home for over thirty years I never became active in local matters. Now in retrospect I wish I had. I would be a little more informed and possibly involved.

Mike Bonin is the Democratic Councilmember for the 11th District of Los Angeles.The first question I asked myself before anything else is what does it mean to be a councilmember? I think the problem for many people like myself might be that local politics is confusing. I know what our national politicians do but when things break down to the local level that’s when it gets grey. 

So the first thing I did was look at the question : what is the Los Angeles City Council? This will help shed some light on what other city councils might do as well.  

“The Los Angeles City Council is the legislative body of the City of Los Angeles.”

“The council is composed of 15 members elected from single-member districts for four-year terms.[1] The president of the council and the president pro tempore are chosen by the council at the first regular meeting of the term (after June 30 in odd-numbered years until 2017 and the second Monday of December in even-numbered years beginning in 2020). An assistant president pro tempore is appointed by the President. As of 2020, council members receive an annual salary of $207,000 per year, which is among the highest city council salary in the nation. [2]

“Regular council meetings are held in the City Hall on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 10 am except on holidays or if decided by special resolution.[3]

The 11th District which is the district  Mike Bonin represents includes the following neighborhoods: Brentwood, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Marina del Rey, Pacific Palisades, Playa del Rey, Playa Vista, Venice, West Los Angeles, Westchester. Those are also neighborhoods with a growing number of tent cities. Mike Bonin is not only a councilmember. It turns out that he is a champion to combat the growing homeless crisis in his district and the city! 

“Mike has been a prescient and passionate voice on homelessness, warning of the crisis and advocating new solutions years before others even acknowledged there was a problem.” 

“Mike has continued to be ahead of the curve on homelessness, urging the City to enter into a consent decree with the County of Los Angeles, groups suing the City, and unhoused people and their advocates, to create a comprehensive and legally enforceable (and judicially overseen) action plan to immediately shelter people, provide long term housing, and reform the system.”

To date these are Mike’s accomplishments in the battle against homelessness: 

“On Mike’s watch, his Westside district has been an example of neighborhoods stepping up to be part of the solution, opening supportive housing and bridge housing, and piloting shared housing, safe parking, safe camping, and a variety of street and services.

Permanent Supportive Housing at the following locations has been opened, approved, or proposed on Mike’s watch:

  • 11976 Culver Boulevard in Del Rey,  (opened)
  • 11368 Beach Avenue in Del Rey,  (opened)
  • 11738 Courtleigh Drive in Del Rey,  (opened)
  • 11950 W. Missouri in West LA,  (under construction)
  • 2454 S Barry Ave in West LA,  (approved)
  • 3233 S. Thatcher Avenue in Venice, (approved)
  • 8333 Airport Blvd in Westchester, (approved)
  • 720 Rose Avenue in Venice,  (under construction)
  • 2469 Lincoln Boulevard in Venice, and the (approved)
  • Veterans Administration Campus in Brentwood. (some opened) –  for veterans only
  • Veterans Administration campus in Brentwood, as well as at (some under construction) –  for veterans only
  • Venice Boulevard and Pacific Avenue in Venice, – (proposed)
  • DCRC: 12901 Venice Blvd in Mar Vista  (proposed)

Bridge housing is temporary housing meant to be a bridge from the streets to long-term, stable housing:

  • 200 Sunset Avenue in Venice (opened)
  • The VA campus in Brentwood –  (opened) – for veterans only
  • Mitchell Avenue in Mar Vista.   (opened)

A Project Roomkey is a federally-funded program to lease until the end of the pandemic rooms for temporary homeless housing.   Hotels operational in CD11: 

  • Cadillac Hotel on Venice Beach. 

Encampment to Home is a focused program bringing outreach, services and housing or shelter placements to a concentrated area. A successful program was implemented at:

  • Rose/Penmar in Venice – housing more than 75 people from a single encampment without any police intervention at all.
  • Manchester Square near LAX — housed over 50 individuals slowly and thoughtfully closing off public streets in a major encampment in preparation for an imminent construction project. No major LAPD presence. Thoughtful, deliberate and humane.

Project Homekey is a state-funded program to purchase hotels and motels for use as homeless housing. Properties have been purchased at:

  • 9250 Airport Boulevard in Westchester (Open!)
  • 3130 Washington Boulevard in Venice/Marina del Rey. (Open!)

Cabin communities are a collection of small structures (approximately 100 sq feet), constructed quickly and inexpensively, that provide personal shelter. The communities provide services, security, sanitation and a path out of homelessness. Proposed locations for either safe camping or cabin communities are:

  • Marina Launch Ramp Parking Lot (13477 Fiji Way)  (proposed — the site under consideration for a cabin community OR safe camping)
  • LAX property to be determined (proposed) – this site under consideration for a cabin community OR safe parking OR safe camping)

Safe Parking is a program allowing people living in their vehicles to park safely overnight, with security, access to bathrooms, and access to services, in assigned spots in a certain lot. Programs in CD11:

  • Westchester at the Recreation and Parks parking lot at 9045 Lincoln Boulevard (opened) 
  • CD11 field office at 1645 Corinth Avenue in West LA  (opened) 
  • Veterans Administration campus in Brentwood.  (opened) – for veterans only
  • Dockweiler Beach (proposed) – the site under consideration safe parking)
  • LAX property to be determined (proposed) – this site under consideration for a cabin community OR safe parking OR safe camping)

Safe camping is a program allowing people who would otherwise be living in sidewalk encampments to sleep safely, with security, access to bathrooms, and access to services, in assigned spots in a certain area. Programs in CD11:

  • VA campus in Brentwood.  (opened) – for veterans only
  • LAX property to be determined (proposed) – this site under consideration for a cabin community OR safe parking OR safe camping)
  • Marina Del Rey Boat Ramp #2 (proposed — the site under consideration for a cabin community OR safe camping)

Emergency shelters have also periodically operated in 

  • West LA
  • Westchester
  • Venice.

Shared Housing – Mike has twice piloted a successful program with SHARE! (Self-Help and Recovery Exchange) of Culver City, which matches unhoused people as roommates in mutually supportive, communal, recovery-based settings in a single-family. The program is fast, efficient, successful, and scalable. It houses people quickly and saves lives.

Public Health & Hygiene at Encampments – Mike has proposed and piloted a smart and reasonable program to help clean encampments and protect public health. Instead of the city’s wasteful and controversial program that forcefully cleans encampments, often with the presence of LAPD, and confiscates people’s belongings, Mike has worked with residents and volunteers and city staff on a program that offers sanitation and hygiene services, resulting in cleaner encampments and improved public health, and costing less money, taking less time, and causing less controversy.

Lava Mae – Mike advocated for the launch of  Lava Mae in Los Angeles – a mobile shower and restroom nonprofit that provides mobile showers to homeless people. He introduced a motion to bring more mobile showers to LA neighborhoods to give people living on the street access to basic hygienic services. Lava Mae, Power of a Shower, and other programs have been used in the district to help build trust with unhoused individuals.

Access to Restrooms- Mike fought to make sure bathrooms were available to unhoused residents, opening restrooms at Venice Beach overnight, and convincing the city to contract with Pit Stop, a program that provided mobile bathrooms in certain areas. When the pandemic hit and public places with restrooms closed, Mike moved aggressively to provide restrooms and hygiene stations in his district, ahead of other districts and city agencies.

LAX Homeless Services – Mike pushed for LAX to establish a dedicated homeless issues consultant to spearhead solutions-based approaches to homelessness at the LAX terminals and within airport-owned lands. Over the years a series of consultants have expanded this program and unhoused individuals at LAX are regularly offered shelter and services. Some individuals have even been reconnected with family across the country through collaboration with airline providers. Dedicated teams of mental health clinicians and unarmed, plainclothes airport police officers with special training have become a model for providing a care-based approach, with other airport leaders regularly reaching out to LAX airport staff for help and expertise.”

In June, Bonin proposed a six-week effort to help combat this ever increasing problem and new population of citizens. 

“​​L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin announced that, beginning June 28, teams from the nonprofit St. Joseph Center will go along Ocean Front Walk and offer housing and services to the dozens of homeless people living there.”

“As people and their belongings move indoors, dedicated Bureau of Sanitation resources will clean each area,” Bonin wrote in a letter. “Once the people currently living in each zone have been housed, the spaces will be reactivated with community programming for public enjoyment.”

“The initiative is part of Encampment To Home, a $5 million motion Bonin proposed earlier this month in the city council to address homelessness in his area. It involves providing immediate funds for bridge housing, local hotel rooms and even vacant apartments in the Venice area for the more than 100 unhoused people camping on the beach.”

This is a hopeful effort because the Sheriff has been threatening to remove the homeless off to jail. Jail is not the place, even if it is a bed. The implication is that they are criminals. 

“Bonin has been at odds with L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva after the sheriff sent deputies to Venice Beach to clear some of the homeless off the boardwalk, despite the fact that Venice Beach is not in LASD’s jurisdiction.”

“The only beds the sheriff has are jails, he hasn’t used them yet, but he’s certainly been threatening to use them,” Bonin said June 10 when asked where Villanueva was taking the homeless individuals. “He has provided a very nice, but very expensive taxi service over the last couple of days and has driven people to some of the housing resources that government agencies and the social service agencies already offer.”

Homelssness is first a public health issue and an economic issue;  not a criminal justice issue. It seems that Bonin feels the same way as I do. 

“The narrative has been framed in part by progressive City Councilmember Mike Bonin and L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who’ve been engaged in a public social media feud over whether compassion or criminalization is the best course of action. The crisis of the unhoused has drawn an army of local, national and international media to the Venice Beach boardwalk over the past few months, focusing on the multicolored tents and tarps that covered a grassy rise next to the concrete walkway.”

Mike Bonin is human and has empathy. And it helps to understand what it feels like. As you will see later in the article. 

The hashtag “cancel culture” could not leave Bonin alone. Impatient democracy is at work once again and Bonin is on the chopping block because the recall police think he is the reason for homelessness. So they had to take a bite and add him to the list of recall and get out. The impatient woke Karen’s or Chad’s or Kevin’s or whoever’s that think they know better but really they know nothing are now calling for a recall because rather than help get involved to solve a problem they simply want to get rid of the people who roll up their sleeves and try. Whiny little bitches to borrow a term from my hero Bill Maher. 

“​​Bonin was served with a recall notice on June 15, which made him the second council member to be the target of a recall effort in less than a week, along with Councilwoman Nithya Raman. The draft petition for Raman’s recall was approved by the City Clerk on Friday.”

“Petitioners against Bonin, who represents Westside neighborhoods including Venice, and Raman, who represents central neighborhoods including Hollywood and Silver Lake, cite anger with how the council members have handled the city’s homelessness crisis.”

“This recall campaign is an extravagant waste of taxpayer money, a thinly disguised attempt to derail my efforts to provide real solutions to our homelessness crisis, and the latest in a series of recall attempts to silence strong progressive voices,” Bonin said after he was served by the notice in June.”

“Under Los Angeles’ recall rules, constituents are able to sign petitions to recall councilmembers starting four weeks after the notices are served. To get the recall effort on the ballot, campaigns have 120 days to obtain verified signatures from 15% of the districts’ registered voters.

The petition’s deadline is Nov. 10 for Bonin’s recall and it needs at least 27,387 signatures from qualified registered voters in his district. The effort against Raman requires at least 27,405 signatures by Nov. 4.”

How can they blame him for something that is endemic to our entire country? Unless these people have been living under a rock (or more like they have rocks in their heads) we are in a pandemic, people have lost their jobs, and we are in a housing crisis that started before the pandemic. There is an increase in homelessness across the board. And the pandemic only added to the problem. 

“The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) 2020 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress (Part 1) shows that 580,466 people were counted as homeless during the 2020 Point-in-Time count, representing a 2.2% increase over 2019. This marks the fourth consecutive annual increase in homelessness, following sustained reductions between 2010 and 2016.” 

“The count took place in January 2020, in the weeks preceding the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. As such, the findings shed light on a homelessness system that was overburdened and under–resourced long before the COVID-19 pandemic forced economic disruption and housing crises on households nationwide.”  

“And we know the pandemic has only made the homelessness crisis worse,” HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge said in a video message accompanying the report. She called the numbers “devastating” and said the nation has a “moral responsibility to end homelessness.”

So why recall Bonin? He is trying to help. What are the whiny little bitches doing besides whining? This is his life’s work. For example in 2019 he famously said, “we cannot legislate homelessness away”, on the steps of city hall. 

“Bonin said. “We can house it away, we can service it away, we can prevent it away, but we cannot legislate it away.”

LA Magazine did an outstanding  interview with Mike Bonin in November of 2019. I invite you to link to this extraordinary article. I can only highlight some of the outstanding points that were discussed  and can only say that if the naysayers who are recalling this man read that article they should be ashamed of themselves. Mike Bonin himself has had a brush with homelessness. I would venture to bet that the closest any one of these grousers ever came to sleeping in their car was waiting in a long line at the car wash. https://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/mike-bonin-homelessness/

“It wasn’t the first time Bonin—who’s been in office since 2013—had taken a strong stance on homelessness in the city. In recent years, the outspoken councilman has pushed for L.A. to diversify its stock of homeless and low-income housing, opened up the parking lots of his own Westside field offices to homeless constituents, and proposed that the city create a commission of individuals with lived experiences of homelessness. We caught up with Bonin to learn more about why he’s taken on the crisis as one of his core issues, and what he thinks it will take for the city to solve it.”

“Master leasing, I learned back in 2014, is a very effective way that the County has used to house people quickly. The way it works is the leasing agency, whether it’s the county or a nonprofit or housing manager, goes out and leases a bunch of units. And then when there is someone they identify for housing, they have a place to put them right away. This makes it easier for people who have vouchers to get housing in a hot rental market. Another solution is shared housing. There’s this organization SHARE—Self Help and Recovery Exchange. They rent a whole house, maybe it’s four bedrooms. They’ll do eight beds, a shared common space. It’s sort of a peer support model—people help each other and they develop a sense of community.”

“We’re  changing it so LAPD is not engaged, so it’s much more proactive, so there is a public health component. We just initiated showers at one of our encampments this morning, actually, in Mar Vista. We’re trying to get more mobile toilets. Treating it as a public health issue and not as a trash issue makes it easier to do outreach and establish relationships to get people into housing.”

“Being homeless is a traumatic experience, but it’s one that perpetuates additional trauma almost inevitably. If you have a mental illness you’re gonna get a lot sicker living on the streets, and you may manifest for the first time a mental illness. It’s hard to get well sometimes when you’re housed, when you have great access to health care. But when you’re living on the streets it’s a hell of a lot harder. And I think that that what we need to appreciate when we do outreach is that people’s experience with trauma makes it harder to establish a trusting connection, so it means we need to keep working harder, to not write people off as “service resistant.”

“There are a couple of elements to this. I think most government folks and a lot of advocates agree housing is the issue. But the public is not fully accepting that housing is the issue. So part of what we have to do is to continue to work on the narrative about what the actual solution is. Even if someone on the streets is suffering from a mental illness or engaged in substance abuse, housing is still part of the solution.”

“The second part is making sure that as we build more housing, we have a significant portion of it that is genuinely affordable and low income. I was supportive of the linkage fee we have, which requires developers to pay into an affordable housing pot. I’d also like to see us do inclusionary zoning—instead of council members and the community having to fight to get affordable housing into a project, it’d just be baked in. I’m also pushing, for the 2020 ballot, an empty homes fee or vacancy tax. By some estimates, L.A. has 100,000 vacant units, and it might force some of those back on the market.”

“And then the final piece is eviction prevention. The new state legislation on rent control helps somewhat, but more tenant protections can and will be done. We’re working on restrictions on the reasons for eviction, and we’re also looking to provide a right to counsel for people who are facing eviction. And then another strategy that some of my colleagues and I have been talking about is, if someone can be spared from eviction by a short-term gap finance situation—a couple of months’ rent—that is a damn worthwhile investment for the city to make.”

And lastly Mike Bonin’s own story. It seems to take someone who knows what it feels like to help lift others up and teach those who have not a clue a little empathy. 

“I’ve been clean and sober from alcohol and drugs for 24-and-three-quarters years. Before I got sober, when I was fairly new to California, I was—I really think of it as “having a brush with” homelessness. A couple of nights I slept in my car, and a couple of nights I slept on the beach, and did a lot of couch surfing and staying in rundown motels and stuff like that. And it was a very defining experience for me. It was, you know, four or five years after graduating from Harvard, and I was a drug addict on the edge of homelessness on the streets of Los Angeles. That’s a memory and a perspective that sticks with you. And it certainly gives me a sensitivity to the issue and to some of the nuances that are harder to grasp. It taught me very clearly that we are all broken, and that we all fall down, and sometimes we need help getting up. And once someone’s helped you up, it’s your obligation to help someone else.”

Before I wrote this article I had not heard of Mike Bonin. Now I want to help him fight the one thing that I am publicly admitting is my own worst fear: homelessness. Shame on those for recalling this man! 

Recalls and not accepting election results are becoming a stain on democracy. But that is a whole other article on the downfall of our democratic process.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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