Panhandling but not penniless: Woodland Hills man sparks online debate

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Larry is not homeless and doesn't profess to be, but the 80-year-old man's panhandling around Woodland Hills has made him a polarizing figure.

He attracts stares and sympathy... panhandling for cash on street corners and freeway off-ramps.

Larry is not homeless and does not profess to be homeless, yet the 80-year-old has become a polarizing figure in Woodland Hills.

Eyewitness News first learned about Larry from two Facebook groups aimed at reducing crime and cleaning up homeless encampments in the Woodland Hills area.

People in the groups, "Crimebusters Transient Homeless Encampments" and "Crimebusters of West Hills and Woodland Hills" wonder why this elderly, clean-cut man is panhandling nearly every day.

Some commenters claim Larry "has more money than us," that he lives "south of the boulevard," and drives two different cars.

Those statements turn out not to be true, but there are inconsistencies in Larry's story - what he tells people about why he is panhandling.

"He is nice, but he's always coming up with a different story, his wife, his bedridden sister," says one Woodland Hills woman who does not want her name used.

Skeptics post videos and photos online, some show Larry buying beer and wine. Others comment they've seen him buying lottery tickets, coffee at Starbucks, and groceries at Sprouts.

"It's not against the law in the city of Los Angeles to panhandle," says LAPD Captain Paul Vernon. "You could say in some ways, he's an entrepreneur."

It may not be against the law, but Larry's begging has raised the ire of those who believe he's conning hard-earned cash from people who might not be so generous if they knew he drives a car to and from those street corners and lives in a condo with his wife.

On a recent day, Eyewitness News approached a woman who was giving Larry cash at the corner of Fallbrook and Ventura Boulevard.

"He's always there and he is older and he is sweet," says Cindy Libonati. "He's not aggressive and I just feel bad for anyone who is in trouble."

We asked... would she feel differently to learn he has a car and a condo?

"Oh, that's not what he told me," Libonati says. "He told me he was staying with his sister and that he didn't have anything."

Eyewitness News trailed Larry from one of his usual panhandling spots to the modest condo where he lives with his wife a few miles from Woodland Hills. Initially, they hide from our cameras... and refuse to answer questions.

We check property records to learn the condo is in his wife's name - bought for $165,000 nearly two decades ago. It's not underwater and they are not in foreclosure. They've taken out some cash, but still have an estimated $308,000 in equity.

Steps away from the couple's home, a homeless person appears to be living out of an old, broken-down trailer.

A longtime friend who owns a mini-mart around the corner says the couple has fallen on hard times. Years ago, they'd spend hundreds of dollars a week at his store. Nesrtullhe Mohemmed says they even bought gifts for his children and food from his store for the homeless.

Now, they spend much less - although Mohemmed says Larry turned down his offer of employment.

"I said I could train you, I can give you Saturday, Sunday work," Mohemmed tells Eyewitness News. "He said that is too much for me. I am too old, it is too much work."

Larry ultimately agrees to an interview with Eyewitness News. He worries about the publicity, but understands he's already notorious online and around Woodland Hills.

"There are a few who come up and say - "get a job!" Larry says. "I have tried to get a job, two to three years, but nobody is going to hire me."

"My sign simply says, 'Out of work. Out of money. Please help. Thank you,'" Larry explains, emphasizing that he never claims to be homeless. "I was desperate. I just needed a way to make a little money to make ends meet."

Larry says he's been out of work since 2014 when he was downsized from a clerical job at Mission Community Hospital. The panhandling supplements his social security check, but there never seems to be enough to cover the bills. He says he makes between $20 and $50 a day on the street.

As for their one car? Larry says it was a gift to his wife from a friend who passed away from AIDS-related complications.

"I took a bus for three years, because we didn't have a car," says Larry who tells Eyewitness News he's had two heart attacks.

Critics say they aren't haters, but suggest it's better to help the truly needy through a charity.

"There's people who really are in need and then there's him," says the Woodland Hills woman who tells Eyewitness News she's offered to help Larry find work. "I've seen him at the grocery store buying wine and beer and high-end seafood. I've seen him at a good restaurant getting takeout."

"He definitely has the stamina to get up every morning, he's out there by 7:00," she says. "If you can get up and stand for hours on end, you can also work."

Larry says he's turned down jobs at a car wash and a Christmas tree lot. He says he tried to apply for jobs at Trader Joe's and department stores, but nothing has come through.

What does Larry hope will come of this?

"To get a better income of some kind," says Larry. "Because it is a super struggle now to make ends meet."
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societypanhandlingWoodland HillsLos AngelesLos Angeles County
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