Panhandling in Pacific Palisades: Should I Give?

By Sue Pascoe

Panhandlers continually work the corners along Pacific Coast Highway at Sunset, Temescal Canyon and Chautauqua. They hold up signs that read “Anything helps,” “I’m hungry” and “Will work for food.” Most of these transients look haggard and in need of a bath and clean clothes.

Do you roll down your car window and hand them $20?

Does that money simply help them avoid having to seek the services that are available to the homeless?

Those questions were addressed at a town hall meeting on April 3 at the Palisades Library community room, hosted by the Pacific Palisades Task Force on Homelessness (PPTFH). About 75 people attended.

People feel bad for the homeless and want to give. Photo: Sharon Kilbride
People feel bad for the homeless and want to give. Photo: Sharon Kilbride

Surprisingly, the PPTFH has not yet taken a position on panhandling and wants feedback from the community as it works to get transients off the sidewalks and into shelters.

Carlos Rodriguez, manager of the 76 gas station on PCH at Sunset, said he has heard both sides of the argument.

On one hand, people feel badly and ask, “Why aren’t we more humane?,” but on the other side, he sees panhandlers get the money, then go buy beer and head to the beach.

“Some of my customers ask, ‘Why are you allowing them to panhandle?’” Rodriguez said. Other customers, having seen the panhandlers become violent, won’t allow their children alone near his station.

“In running a business, customer safety is my priority,” Rodriguez noted.

It is legal for a person to panhandle, unless they become aggressive, then the manager can call LAPD.

LAPD Officer John “Rusty” Redican, who is on bike patrol and has been essential in helping the PPTFH with enforcement in No Trespass zones, said: “I’m getting it straight from the ‘horse’s mouth’—they tell me they’re going to buy beer and alcohol.”

He said it becomes a safety hazard to have the transients at busy intersections and near PCH. “Last year a homeless person was killed at Sunset and PCH. We don’t want them to get hurt, and we don’t want them to hurt themselves.”

One audience member asked, “Do most of the homeless have a source of income?” Rodriguez said that they can receive $221 a month in general relief and $900 from SSI (Supplemental Security Income), but “they have to have a post office box and be willing to go through the paperwork with the city.”

Redican was asked if panhandling is illegal. “If they are just standing there, no,” he said. “Aggressive panhandling is illegal.”

Other questions from the audience about panhandling included, “How do I model compassion for my children if I don’t give money?,”“What do I say to a homeless person when I don’t give to them?,”“What alternatives are there to giving money?” and “I give money because it’s the homeless person’s choice to live this way.”

Some used a religious argument, saying that Jesus gave to beggars, but at least one Bible verse (2 Thessalonians 3:10) states: “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” The question was also raised about the possibility that by giving cash to panhandlers, residents perpetuate the problem— homeless people stay on the street rather than seeking help.

The conclusions at the meeting were summarized: 1.) We give to alleviate our guilt; it makes us feel better; 2.) Look at people individually to see what their specific needs might be; 3.) Give the homeless cards that have PPTFH information on it, so they can receive services; 4.) Maybe give food or food certificates or water instead of cash; 5.) Stop using the term “the homeless” because these are people who are experiencing homelessness and need to be talked about as individuals, not as a category; and 6.) It is better to give money to PPTFH than to panhandlers.

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