A Daily Press news article (“Feeding homeless in public raising concerns again,” Nov. 23) reported that Downtown stakeholders are concerned about the growing number of groups now handing out food, primarily to transients and “the homeless” on the Third Street Promenade.
There are increasing numbers of undesirables — drunks and anti-social individuals — attracted by these handouts. They congregate on the promenade, pester passers-by and engage in anti-social behavior while waiting for food providers to show up. And, they often linger long after the food providers have left and leave garbage, trash, consume alcohol, urinate on public property, panhandle and make a nuisance of themselves.
The food handouts are provided by a number of out of town, primarily Christian-centered organizations including UCLA Food Not Bombs, Campus Crusade UCLA which hosts Santa Monica Homeless Outreach, Calabasas-based Turning Kindness On (TKO), Lighting the Way Worldwide and a campus ministry/student group from Loyola-Marymount University called Feed the Hungry, and others.
While members of these groups feel they are doing “God’s work,” the long-term effects of their so-called benevolence often has a serious downside for the very people they think they’re helping.
A few years ago, a Hollywood-based church gave away meals in Palisades Park. The pre-packaged foods handed out were past their expiration dates. The possibility of hundreds of people eating and getting sick from spoiled food obtained from a church group on city (public) property raised serious liability issues.
Another issue is that free food handouts make it real easy for those in need to avoid services, put off medical help, psychological counseling, substance abuse treatment, vocational skills training, public assistance and housing. Why should they bother helping themselves when they can eat and then camp in a doorway or garage for free?
One city employee recently told me that with as many as a hundred or more people leaving behind uneaten food after a feeding there’s an unsightly, smelly mess that stretches for blocks and attracts vermin. Unfortunately, clean-up efforts, if any, by these groups are ineffective.
For decades, City Hall has been honing and perfecting a multi-tiered program to help the indigent, mentally challenged and the unhoused — not just to exist from day to day but to change their lives for the better through a combination of support, services, counseling and eventually, housing.
A key component of those efforts is bringing most “homeless” programs and feeders under its human services umbrella, moving food give-aways inside and linking them with service providers such as OPCC and the St. Joseph Center.
The thinking is that by linking food handouts to services and their providers, the service resistant or service lazy will eventually seek help and change their self-destructive existence. It’s a “carrot and stick” approach that’s made Santa Monica’s highly successful efforts a model for helping the homeless worldwide.
Unfortunately many of the groups that hand out free food have resisted “going inside” or working with City Hall or its service providers. The groups come here, hand out food, proselytize and go back to their campuses or churches and congratulate themselves for their charity.
I don’t think they think about or care that they’re throwing a monkey wrench into City Hall’s successful homeless services continuum or that they’re empowering those needing help to forestall assistance. They are, in essence, empowering individuals to exist on the streets until the next free sandwich.
In the meantime, we’re all cleaning up the mess that’s left. City Hall and public safety resources are spent on dealing with drunks, freeloaders and the mentally challenged drawn here from all around the region because, “in Santa Monica, they give away food on the streets.”
Disgusted and besieged residents are now shopping and seeking entertainment where food handouts aren’t permitted and anti-social persons aren’t tolerated like at The Grove, Westside Pavillion or in Century City. Tourists complain and vow to never come back.
One social service provider told me that there is so much available in Santa Monica that nobody should ever go hungry or be living on the streets. In that light, I’m not to sure that Campus Crusade or any of these other outreach groups are needed here.
If the do-gooders must hand out food, there’s a real need for their charity in Downtown Los Angeles on Skid Row where far fewer services are available. Problem is it’s dirty and dangerous.
Better to come to Santa Monica, park in secure, well-lit garages and hand out sandwiches on the world famous Third Street Promenade in front of the Apple Store or in Palisades Park overlooking the ocean.
Even though it’s the holiday season, wouldn’t it be better to give a person in need the tools to escape pain and misery on the streets by supporting the professionals and services tha “teach a man to fish” rather than “keep ‘em slaves to tomorrow’s handout?”
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org