Living in Tents Along Aetna Street


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On Saturday, February 20th, I lead a Noontime bike ride through historic Van Nuys sponsored by Connect the Dots and the Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition.

About 30 men and women rode with me, and then stopped as I spoke about old places, such as the original Van Nuys Library, the old post office, the high school, and the Katherine Avenue Historic District.

We had met at the Orange Line Metro near Aetna and Van Nuys Boulevard. I got there early about 11am, before the others arrived, and then I rode down Aetna.

Near Aetna and Tyrone, along the sidewalk, there is yet another impromptu community of tents, and people inhabiting them, set up on the sidewalk, in the sun.
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It is getting depressingly familiar to happen upon these encampments of people who live on the street, and it seems Los Angeles is emulating its old patterns of decentralization by dropping vagrancy in many areas, so that today’s homeless are just like 25 suburbs in search of a city. Skid Row is as near as your corner store.

Dressing behind his tent, and emerging in the sunshine, was compact Carlos, tattooed and athletic, who briefly spoke of growing up in the San Fernando Valley, attending Canoga Park High School (class of 1994) and being a champion cheerleader. He told me bad luck and bad decisions had put him out along the curb.

He later put on a shirt, and I saw him ride up on a child’s bike, the oft chosen ride for some adult Latinos.

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Carlos Standing
On the south side of Aetna, opposite the tenttown, stretching for the entire block from Van Nuys Boulevard to Tyrone, is a vast Department of Water and Power site otherwise called Valley Telecommunications Headquarters.

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And thus the entire 105-year-old history of Van Nuys comes around full circle, because it is water and electricity that makes it possible to live here, and without those two utilities life itself would cease to exist, or at least modern life as we live it.

How ironic, how cruel, how barbaric, Los Angeles often acts. To have the know-how to bring water hundreds of miles from its source to fertilize civilization, and to electrify those dark nights and air condition those hot days; but still allow, in plain sight, men and women to exist, without water, plumbing and live current, in conditions suitable for squirrels and rats, and to scarcely offer a word of consolation to the victims.

Don’t you know the Mayor himself aspires to Great Streets in Los Angeles? In the not-so-distant future, Van Nuys Boulevard may become “great” according to the low standards of Los Angeles. Benches, bike lanes and decorative lampposts will be within sight of those individuals who defecate in sewers and walk Victory Boulevard screaming and dazed.

The fading glory of history pales next to our bright current circus of insanity.

But quiet indignation must step aside for loud boosterism.

Let the ride begin! We are on our way to a new tomorrow!

3 thoughts on “Living in Tents Along Aetna Street

  1. Well, like I’ve said, I don’t live there and haven’t for many years. When you live in other places that actively do something about all the negative aspects we see in Van Nuys, one can’t help but ask why nothing’s being done to clean up the place. And no, I’m definitely not an economics person. (Thanks for the jab-LOL!) I DO know, for instance, it IS possible to do something about the graffiti, as we see in Santa Clarita. Keeps the whole city nicer! Zero tolerance! You think a tent city would fly in Valencia? HELL NO! Wouldn’t be tolerated!!And its SO much safer! Back in the ’70’s, sheriffs would see a bum and take him for a ride and drop him off in Watts or downtown! Not anymore, but I’m just saying there’s always been a serious effort to keep the rif-raf away from here, and as a resident, you gotta love that! It’s like, “Hey, we don’t stand for that here! Go to the Valley or the city! Get outta here! ” That’s one reason people love Santa Clarita! Great environment, great LOCAL government that’s always active to keep it higher-class, sheriff department, all powers that be are all in to keep this from turning into SFVll! Seems like nobody cares about the Valley these days, and so it continues to go down. But no, there wasn’t a huge homeless problem in Van Nuys in the ’60’s and ’70’s like now at all! All the crazy derilicts, and it certainly wasn’t so damn dirty!

    1. I agree that toleration for homelessness means it will proliferate. There is nothing humane about people sleeping on the sidewalk. But here is where I wonder: do you have a place to take people who choose to live on the street?

  2. Well, it makes me sick to see what Van Nuys has come to. I don’t have the same sense of humor you seem to have about it. I now live in Santa Clarita, where all graffiti is taken off almost immediately and there’s zero tolerance for it, which is refreshing the more you leave the area! It makes you wanna go home real fast where it’s so much safer and nicer in comparison! I come to Van Nuys for whatever reason, and get an uneasy feeling every time, and I not only can’t wait to leave, but think to myself I wouldn’t wanna live here now even if you paid my mortgage/rent for me! So dirty, filthy, rotten, and scary! Worse than downtown L.A. in a lot of ways! My wife and I both experience anxiety coming to Van Nuys! So many great memories of how great it was back in the day, but let’s face it. It’s a shit-hole now. So sad. I wonder why something isn’t done to return it to the nice place it was back then or at least try to do something. The powers that be there are doing absolutely nothing about it! Sometimes, you gotta say, ‘better them than me’ as you just leave for better pastures yourself, unfortunately, and that’s what I did, fortunately! Taxpayers deserve better treatment.

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