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In the 90s, Venice Beach Was a Place Where an Unhoused Person Was Treated Like Your Neighbor

7:00 AM PDT on August 9, 2021

    Welcome to our L.A. in the 90s Week,  presented by Tecate, the official beer of L.A. TACO. Each day this week, we will bring you features and photo essays celebrating the best of L.A.’s 90s history.

    [dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he Venice Beach of the 90s, where I grew up, was one of the few places in the United States where a homeless man could be the center of the neighborhood and not just an afterthought.

    The old Venice Beach scene had such a sweet vibe and it was the kind of place where the unhoused were part of the community. 

    No shade to the new Venice Beach, it's sweet too, but there was something a little more special, a little more eclectic, a little more interesting about the Venice Boardwalk in the 90s. That’s when me, mama, and my brother lived in a tiny Section 8 apartment on Rose Court, no more than 150 feet from the sand.

    From Rose to Windward Avenue was my territory. At five years old, I would roam the Boardwalk, playing, laughing, and hustling tourists to pay for my picture: “One dollar for a photo of me. Five dollars if you don't have change.”

    I was a ragamuffin child with long locks and a big smile and the beach was my playground.  

    In the 90s, parenting wasn’t as strict. Mama would allow me and my brother to go the Boardwalk and mingle with the locals so long as we looked out for one another. Mama also knew we wouldn’t go far, she knew she could find us at Domingo’s bench if she needed us. 

    If you lived in Venice in the 90s, you knew Domingo. He was an unhoused, dark-skinned man with long locks and a super charming gapped-toothed smile. Today, I laugh at that description, because people thought he was my father. So in some ways, he was a reflection of me. 

    My brother and I spent hours playing and teasing Domingo. He was our “OG.” He looked out for us and we didn’t care that he was homeless. 

    If Venice Beach were a village, then Domingo was the village mystic and he’s been my friend since 1992. 

    In the news lately, I keep reading about L.A.’s effort to remove the unhoused community from the Boardwalk. Lost in all the debate is that the unhoused community has contributed so much to the Bohemian spirit of Venice Beach. 

    Nostalgia takes me back to a time when the unhoused were treated as part of the Venice community. They were in need of our care, while also maintaining the need to be as free-spirited as they wanted to be. I believe that time is gone and I find myself conflicted. 

    My friend Domingo wasn’t a saint. Now that I’m a man, old Venice friends tell me that Domingo had a mean streak in him, that he could be loud, confrontational, and aggressive. 

    Hell, you can say that about my mailman. 

    That makes me love Domingo’s role in my life even more. His life wasn't always pretty, but he was my friend. He didn’t have a 9 to 5, but he added value. 

    He was homeless, but he was my neighbor, and within reason, the same sentiment should apply to this version of unhoused folks in Venice today.

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