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Panhandling: A Give-and-Take : ‘The Sidewalks Are the Property of the People of the City of Los Angeles’

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A lot of people don’t realize it, but it is not easy to be out there panhandling. It is a very difficult thing to do . . . just the level of rejection. When I went out and panhandled, it was terrible! You get people who feel they have the right to say anything to you, to call you names, tell you to go get a job, tell you to get the hell away from them, all kinds of stuff. I’ve heard a lot about how aggressive panhandlers are, but I haven’t heard anything about how abusive the other people are.

We’re talking about human beings. Have you ever noticed that even with the terminology-- panhandler --you don’t hear them talking about a person begging? What is a handler? This is a people problem. And in order for us to solve it, we’ve got to get to a people solution.

Panhandling is not an activity that one could really look upon as being one of the major crimes of any particular area. There are business efforts under way in a number of communities that are kind of saying: “We don’t want you here because you have no money.”

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It’s an effort by business to avoid its responsibility to really deal with some of the social issues confronting our city.

I’m amazed that everyone wants to pass out cards that list homeless service providers. Most of the cards are for programs or services that may be miles away. If a person is panhandling, why would we assume that this person has money to make a phone call or to get to the services? So to me, it’s saying that we want to be able to at least say we’re doing something and not actually do it.

The other thing that worries me is bringing in private security forces to deal with individuals who are on the sidewalks around these establishments.

I’m concerned about these forces not being properly trained and not fully understanding or caring about the individual rights of other people. It’s a real gray area in terms of what the security guards will do and how they will do it.

The sidewalks are the property of the people of the city of Los Angeles. Does one have the right to be on the sidewalk? And if so, how do we protect the rights of the individuals who are out on the sidewalks?

Other things that I have heard from a number of people have been this factor of fear and that homeless people panhandling destroy business. All of the economic indicators that I have seen have shown that regardless of the circumstances, business is down everywhere.

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So why is it that in certain areas, homeless people are being blamed? Are panhandlers responsible for the drop in the occupancy rate of hotels? I don’t think so.

Most religions teach that we have an obligation to provide for individuals in need. Does that mean that can only be done by contributing to charitable organizations? If a person is out here begging, we should help them if we can. If we can’t, we should at least provide them with some kind words. If you look at all the great leaders of religion--like Buddha and Christ--these guys relied upon others to survive. I wonder what would happen if Buddha or Christ were in Downtown right now and somebody gave them a card. . . .

The Central City Assn.’s Downtown cleanup program is a plan that homeless people and panhandlers have had no say about. The business community has the responsibility to do something positive, something proactive. What have the Central City Assn. or Santa Monica Promenade merchants done to create these opportunities? What programs have they put forth? What cooperative ventures have they entered into with homeless organizations?

The county is now talking about cutting general relief payments to the almost-criminal $212-a-month level. I would love for any of those $50,000-a-year-plus executives who are being hassled by panhandlers for a quarter to tell me how they expect an individual to survive on $212 per month.

These same people are making a judgment that panhandling is bad. I don’t believe that there is anybody who works in an office who has not panhandled one of their co-workers at some point or another. So what’s the difference?

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