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Residents Propose Giving Food Coupons to Homeless : Studio City: An association, which had been criticized for urging the prosecution of panhandlers, still seeks a crackdown on law-breaking transients.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group of Studio City residents has unveiled a proposal to deal with the “homeless/transient problem” in the affluent community by handing out food coupons to panhandlers but cracking down on transients committing crimes.

The Studio City Residents Assn. came under fire last month from homeless advocates who said that a push by some group members to prosecute transients under a public nuisance law would in effect make it illegal to be homeless.

But leaders of the association stressed again Tuesday night that they only were trying to prosecute criminals, not all homeless people. Indeed, they said that they hope to use the publicity their efforts have attracted to launch a grass-roots movement to help the needy.

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“Now that the attention has been focused on us, we have a great opportunity to deal constructively with these issues,” said Ken Bernstein, a member of an association committee on the homeless. “We need to rehabilitate those who are homeless and bring them back into society and find them jobs.”

The proposals that Bernstein brought up, most of which are still in the planning stages, provoked debates among different factions of the 70 residents in the audience as well as two homeless men who listened to the presentation.

Bernstein suggested launching an anti-panhandling campaign but encouraged residents to make donations to organizations for the homeless. He also discussed giving meal coupons to the homeless or handing out lists of numbers of various social service agencies. And, he said, the association would take the lead in implementing similar programs throughout the Valley.

Included in the proposals is a push to increase prosecution of people who “engage in violence, become verbally abusive, block access to public space, or engage in real harassment,” Bernstein said.

Los Angeles Police Officer Jim O’Riley told the audience that some criminal transients could be arrested under state laws or municipal codes that prohibit begging, sitting or lying on sidewalks and interfering with lawful businesses. The acts are misdemeanors, which usually carry a $1,000 fine or six months in jail. O’Riley said he would warn transients he sees interfering with the public that they could be subject to such arrests.

The issue arose this fall after residents became concerned that an influx of homeless people in the area was responsible for an increase in crimes ranging from burglaries to rapes. Since then, Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs has asked the county to permanently seal a space near the Los Angeles River beneath Laurel Canyon Boulevard where “transient criminals” are believed to live in encampments in the county right of way, Wachs deputy Mark Freed said. The county has made no decision.

On Tuesday, the owner of a Texaco gas station showed a videotape of a man who refused to pay for cigarettes by telling the owner: “Open your mouth and I’ll break your face in.”

O’Riley also reported that a 10-year-old girl was shaken by a street person at a Ventura Boulevard restaurant in November.

The officer, echoing the main message of the night, admonished the group to “please understand this has nothing to do with the homeless. We’re talking about the aggressive criminal transient.”

Some audience members remained skeptical.

“I think the people in Studio City, we don’t like to see people on the street corners,” said David Litt, a 34-year resident. “You’re making an excuse and saying there’s a criminal problem in Studio City.”

Dan Stokes, a 45-year-old homeless man who said he had been living in his trailer since 1988, criticized the residents for penalizing an entire group of people.

“There’s so much shoveling under the rug going on here,” he said after the meeting. “People who’ve had problems with the criminal homeless are grouping all the homeless into that category.”

Homeless advocate Ted Hayes, who attended the meeting to gather support for his own plan to create communities for homeless people in outlying areas, said later that prosecuting the homeless on minor municipal code infractions is discriminatory. “You don’t normally enforce them,” he said. “Why enforce them now?”

Other aspects of the Studio City proposal also raised concerns. Jerry Meisner, a Studio City businessman, objected to handing out food coupons.

“If you want to get rid of stray pets, you don’t put out saucers of milk,” Meisner said. “If you want to put out a coupon, I suggest a bus ticket.”

But Ben Rinaldo, secretary of the association, countered the argument, asking where the homeless would go if they were run out of Studio City.

“Every place in the world, we have this problem,” Rinaldo said. “Let’s not think in terms of kicking people out of Studio City. We must think in sociological terms of solving international problems.”


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