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Santa Monica Tangles With Homeless Issue : Shelter: City is weighing restrictions on transients in the face of growing complaints by residents. Curbing panhandling and confiscating shopping carts are among the proposals.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A new plan to get tough on the homeless in Santa Monica by, among other things, confiscating shopping carts and curtailing panhandling, will be considered by the City Council at a special meeting tonight.

The proposals were put forward last week by council members Asha Greenberg and Robert T. Holbrook, who said they are beset by constant complaints from the public about the intractable transient problem in the city.

To underscore their point, dozens of Santa Monica residents showed up at last week’s council meeting to demand relief from what they described as intolerable conditions.

“It’s insane to let the least fortunate members of society . . . dictate your lifestyle,” said resident Adriana Shaw.

“I feel like I’m living in Sarajevo,” said resident David Brown, who added that he is kept awake by the noise of homeless people pushing rattling shopping carts through the alley under his bedroom window.

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Residents have been especially scornful of a female transient who has been defecating on the Roosevelt Elementary School lawn in full view of pupils. A vagrant also recently wandered into the first-graders’ bathroom at the school, sending screaming children scattering for help.

“It’s a symbol of the city decaying,” Roosevelt parent Clare Osowsky said.

Santa Monica, like other cities, has been grappling with its homeless problems for years. More than two years ago, it became the first city in the nation to enact a multifaceted plan to manage its large transient population. The “tough love” approach combines strict regulations on the conduct of the homeless with social services programs.

However, critics say squeamish enforcement of the regulations has made the much-vaunted program a bust.

“There’s a public safety crisis in our city,” Greenberg said.

An example of an ineffective measure, Greenberg said, is the law passed last year to close city parks after midnight. It included an exception for anyone found sleeping there.

In an attempt last year to clean up unsanitary conditions in Lincoln Park north of Wilshire Boulevard, police went in, after giving notice, and confiscated the belongings of homeless people.

Though the goods were tagged and stored for retrieval by their owners, social service workers and homeless advocates blasted the sweep as inhumane treatment.

Unfavorable court rulings have also stymied city efforts. A federal judge last year said the ordinance banning meals programs in parks was unconstitutional, and another law prohibiting encampments in parks is also being challenged.

How far the council goes at tonight’s meeting will in part depend on the advice of a new city attorney, Marsha Jones Moutrie, who replaced former City Atty. Robert M. Myers. He was ousted in 1991 over his unwillingness to write and enforce ordinances that restrict homeless people.

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Some residents have vowed to place an initiative on the November ballot to gain more restrictions. With three council seats up for grabs, that is something the liberal majority, which controls the council by a 5-2 margin, would like to avoid.

Greenberg and Holbrook’s ideas include a law prohibiting panhandling at night. They also want to restrict panhandling on the bustling Third Street Promenade to designated areas.

Still, as legally protected free speech, panhandling cannot be outlawed and there is some question about the legality of the proposed restrictions.

Another element in the proposal involves enforcing a law confiscating stolen grocery carts--in which homeless people stash their belongings all over town.

The council members also want to repeal the exception in the park closure law for those who are sleeping and to make social service agencies accountable for their clients.


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