• BREAKING NEWS ABC shows live and on-demand -- Download the WATCH ABC app!

Panhandlers may be banned from sitting

August 15, 2008 5:37:57 AM PDT
Standing room only for panhandlers on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. A new law will affect beggars on benches and in chairs. But does it unfairly target the homeless, or actually help them?The new law will not ban panhandling, just prohibit people from begging while seated on public chairs or benches. The city says the law is not anti-homeless. Advocates for the homeless disagree.

The city of Santa Monica is taking a lot of heat for this proposal. One homeless advocacy group calls this city now one of the meanest cities in the nation. City official say they're not heartless, they just have a different way of delivering on compassion.

Third Street Promenade is a patchwork of ordinances imposed by the City to manage both performers and panhandlers.

Meet V.J. "That stands for 'Vodka John,'," said V.J. He's been homeless here for 10 years. "If you get caught sitting on the curb, you get a ticket. You can't sleep at the park, you can't smoke there, you can't smoke here," said V.J.

And now another proposal to put public benches off-limits to panhandlers or anyone who uses them to make money.

"People will sit down and solicit for hours and hours on end and essentially commandeer the bench," said Santa Monica Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom.

Bloom said a city study found that many panhandlers are not even homeless. They come to capitalize on sympathetic tourists. He wants more funds diverted instead for programs to target people like Fay M. Hall. She sleeps inside a Styrofoam box she constructed with a lot of tape.

"I've had insomnia since my nervous breakdown," said Hall. "So I sleep in here. It's real good for sleeping, because it's got all the four walls and closes tight and everything."

And there's Jean Austin on a walker, who used to be homeless. She backs the ban.

"We got elderly people, we got disabled people like myself that come and eat," said Austin. "I looked around, I had to go in the alley and lean my back against the wall because all the benches were taken."

Performers with permits say the panhandlers hurt business.

City leaders say if people really want to help the homeless, give to social service programs.

"There are much better ways of helping people than giving to panhandlers," said Bloom.

Then someday maybe, Fay Hall will have a real home.

The city is still in the process of developing a campaign message to send out to people that will deliver just that message. In the meantime, as for the ordinance? The Santa Monica City Council will vote on that some time next month.

 

- Get more local news headlines from Los Angeles
- Have a news tip? Send your tips, video, or pictures


Load Comments