There’s a perpetual yuppie belief that society’s true failing isn’t the fact that half a million residents don’t have shelter, but that some do-gooders have the audacity to give homeless people food. The latest epicenter of this thinking is Los Angeles, where the City Council is considering a ban on feeding homeless people in public areas after complaints from nearby homeowners.
Los Angeles has the second highest homeless population in the country, at 53,800 individuals, according to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report. And although the number of homeless people went down nationally over the past year, it increased by 27 percent in Los Angeles.
For a quarter-century, the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, a group of community members who strive to meet homeless people “on their own turf, talk to them, and listen,” has served meals to the hungry every evening. On any given night, volunteers will hand out as many as 200 meals.
However, the group is now facing a backlash from locals who don’t like the presence of homeless people near their homes. The New York Times quotes one such man, an actor named Alexander Polinsky, who lives nearby: “If you give out free food on the street with no other services to deal with the collateral damage, you get hundreds of people beginning to squat. They are living in my bushes and they are living in my next door neighbor’s crawl spaces. We have a neighborhood which now seems like a mental ward.”
As bad as Polinsky thinks he has it, it’s safe to assume that any one of the 100 homeless people lined up for a meal would, given the chance, switch spots with him without hesitation.
But complaints like those from Polinsky are beginning to fall on sympathetic ears among City Councilmembers, two of whom have already called on the city to ban groups like GWHFC from feeding homeless people in public. One of them, Councilman Tom LaBonge, called the charities “well-intentioned” but said the effort has devolved into a “free-for-all” that “has overwhelmed what is a residential neighborhood.”
But GWHFC and other charities are critical for the homeless who rely on these meals to survive. “People here — it’s their only way to eat,” said one homeless man, Aaron Lewis, who lives on the sidewalk outside a 7-Eleven. “The community doesn’t help us eat.” Another man, Emerson Tenner, agreed: “There are people here who really need this,” he said while waiting in line for a meal. “A few people act a little crazy. Don’t mess it up for everyone else.”
The proposal will need to pick up more support among the 15-member Council in order to become law.
If passed, though, Los Angeles would join a growing number of other cities that have banned or passed significant restrictions on charities attempting to feed the homeless, including Raleigh and Orlando.