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Venice's homeless teens intimidate, inspire

November 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Venice Beach has a large homeless population. There is concern about a growing number of young people. They say they are in their 20s, but service groups say they are often teens trying to avoid detection.

To Venice Beach they come, from across the nation. Not tourists, these are kids who are homeless and fending for themselves.

"Sixteen-, 17-year-olds that their parents didn't want to take care of them and kicked them out," said "Cricket" from San Francisco.

"I have a pit bull, and I'm kind of mean sometimes," said Desta Atkins from Montana. "And I can fight if need be -- hasn't happened. I have a boyfriend, so I'm good."

Sometimes they're sweet, sometimes they're in your face. Alison Hurst with Safe Place For Youth sees it all.

"When it gets dark down here, that bravado gets dropped and lost, and they become kids again, and vulnerable kids," said Hurst.

She heads a troupe of volunteers who do outreach and meals twice a week at a location they don't want to disclose for fear the young people will be targets for pedophiles.

Jordan Jovanovich from Minneapolis just termed out of foster care.

"I am never alone here," said Jovanovich. "The first day, somebody went to stab somebody and pushed me in front of them."

"Rain. When it gets really rainy and all of our stuff is drenched, and we had to sleep in a bathroom last night," said Desta Atkins.

Yet many Venice residents fear the kids, as the numbers of young people grow. LAPD confirms their numbers are growing.

Linda Lucks is president of the Venice Neighborhood Council.

"Kind of safety in numbers," said Lucks. "They sort of 'pod' together. There's pods of young people, and it's intimidating if you're walking down the boardwalk."

Safe Place For Youth is walking a fine line, trying to get help for young people in an economy where everyone is trying to make do with less.

Alison Hurst says a measure of compassion is all they ask.

"But just smile at them, and maybe ask them what's going on with them, what's going on in their lives. They really are just kids," said Hurst.