Return of the Food Wars: L.A. NIMBY’s and Gentrification Lords Move to Starve Out Homeless

NOTES BY NORSE:  Santa Cruz food activists, even once-a-week religious groups like that of Pastor Ron’s on Thursday afternoon in front of Forever Twenty-One on Pacific Avenue, have experienced direct pressure from “ban the bums” bureaucrats like Julie Hendee, the City staff succubus who gave us the anti-performer sidewalk shrinking laws.  On October 24th, she scolded and pressured Ron’s street church to eliminate their weekly meal, complaining that its participants left litter in spite of the clean-up efforts of the group.  Ron replied that the sidewalk was the only location his church-without-a-building had.

               The right to serve free food outside has been a struggle in Santa Cruz, ever since Holy Cross’s Peter Carota’s efforts in the Beach Flats in the early 80’s.   Dozens were arrested in the early 90’s for feeding folks at the Town Clock, though the persistence of groups like SWAP (Soup Without a Permit), SLOP (Soup Lovers Outdoor Picnics), and Food Not Bombs ultimately exhausted authorities who tried arrests, injunctions, prosecutions, and jail terms unsuccessfully.  Direct Action got the goods and kept them.  Homeless activism actually created the twice-daily meals out at 115 Coral St.
Will Mayor Lynn Robinson (when she enters office in December) return to the repression that is scarring other cities in the country?   Already the City Council is moving today to implement a harsher Public Assembly bill, requiring permits for marches, with a longer advance time (5 days)  than the Egyptian military regime has recently proposed (3 days). Moving swiftly to “investigate” the imaginary crime of “homeless scavenging”.   City Council meets today at 2 PM to consider this new series of restrictions on Public Assembly  at City Hall.
Robinson’s Revanchists will soon move to rubberstamp the patently phony “Public Safety” recommendations of outgoing Mayor Hillary Bryant’s hand-picked hoedown of homeless haters which defines people sleeping outside as a “crime wave”.   (See the Sentinel’s front-page smear job at )
The seminal PeaceCamp2010 protests that provided a homeless encampment for a month in front of the courthouse and then a further 2 month protest  in front of City Hall, prompted City Manager-for-Life Martin Bernal, then-Mayor Coonerty, police Chief Vogel, & Parks and Recreation Czarina Dannettee Shoemaker to impose–with no public discussion or vote–nighttime curfews around the library, city hall, and the police station to deal with the protest/homeless menace.
A year later in  October 2011, the strong Occupy Santa Cruz protests  gave homeless people the shelter and community in the San Lorenzo Encampment that the pathetic Homeless (Lack  of) Services Center could not/  City police responded with military-style violence destroying the encampment on December 8, 2011 and the County with a dusk to dawn (7 PM to 7 AM) curfew around the county building and courthouse with one man given a 2 year sentence for challenging it peacefully with a sign (Gary Johnson–see ).
Food Not Bombs soupslinger Keith McHenry has reported on an upsurge of food fascism throughout the country (see  Food Not Bombs Santa Cruz continues to provide its weekly spread 4 PM Saturdays in front of the Main Post office in spite of threats from the “Punish-the-Poor” postmaster there.   But Santa Cruz soupsippers need to ready their ladles to ready for a local food fight  as the Take-Back-Santa-Cruz faction entrenches its power in December and moves on with its campaign to rebrand homeless locals, hippie travelers, & visible poor people of all kinds as criminals and sub-humans in an attempt to mobilize community fears against them.

As Homeless Line Up for Food, Los Angeles Weighs Restrictions

NYT  November 25 2013

LOS ANGELES — They began showing up at dusk last week, wandering the streets, slumped in wheelchairs and sitting on sidewalks, paper plates perched on their knees. By 6:30 p.m., more than 100 homeless people had lined up at a barren corner in Hollywood, drawn by free meals handed out from the back of a truck every night by volunteers.

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

The Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition has been serving free meals to the homeless in Los Angeles every night for more than 25 years.

But these days, 27 years after the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition began feeding people in a county that has one of the worst homeless problems in the nation, the charity is under fire, a flashpoint in the national debate over the homeless and the programs that serve them.


Facing an uproar from homeowners, two members of the Los Angeles City Council have called for the city to follow the lead of dozens of other communities and ban the feeding of homeless people in public spaces.


“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,” said Alexander Polinsky, an actor who lives two blocks from the bread line. “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.”


Should Los Angeles enact such an ordinance, it would join a roster of more than 30 cities, including Philadelphia, Raleigh, N.C., Seattle and Orlando, Fla., that have adopted or debated some form of legislation intended to restrict the public feeding of the homeless, according to the National Coalition of the Homeless.


“Dozens of cities in recent years,” said Jerry Jones, the coalition’s executive director. “It’s a common but misguided tactic to drive homeless people out of downtown areas.”


“This is an attempt to make difficult problems disappear,” he said, adding, “It’s both callous and ineffective.”


The notion that Los Angeles might join this roster is striking given the breadth of the problem here. Encampments of homeless can be found from downtown to West Hollywood, from the streets of Brentwood to the beaches of Venice. The situation that has stirred no small amount of frustration and embarrassment among civic leaders, now amplified by fears of the hungry and mostly homeless people, who have come to count on these meals.


“They are helping human beings,” said Debra Morris, seated in a wheelchair as she ate the evening’s offering of pasta with tomato sauce. “I can barely pay my own rent.”


There are now about 53,800 homeless people in Los Angeles County, according to the 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report released by the Department of Housing and Urban Development last week, a 27 percent increase over last year. Only New York had a higher homeless population.


The problem is particularly severe here because of the temperate climate that makes it easier to live outdoors, cuts in federal spending on the homeless, and a court-ordered effort by California to shrink its prison population, said Mike Arnold, the executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, an agency created by the city and county in 1993.


All told, about $82 million in government funds is spent each year on helping homeless here, Mr. Arnold said.

Tom LaBonge, one of the two City Council members who introduced the resolution (the other, also a Democrat, was Mitch O’Farrell), said food lines should be moved indoors, out of consideration to the homeless and neighborhoods. “There are well-intentioned people on both sides,” Mr. LaBonge said.


But, he added: “This has overwhelmed what is a residential neighborhood. When dinner is served, everybody comes and it’s kind of a free-for-all.”


Ted Landreth, the founder of the food coalition, said his group had fought back community opposition before — it moved to this corner after being ordered out of Plummer Park in West Hollywood in 1990 because of similar complaints — and would do so again.

“The people who want to get rid of us see dollar signs, property values, ahead of pretty much everything else,” he said.


”We have stood our ground,” he added. “We are not breaking any law.”


Communities that have sought to implement feeding restriction laws have faced strong resistance. In Philadelphia, advocates for the homeless won an injunction in federal court blocking a law there that would have banned food lines in public parks. Even before the court action, religious groups had moved in and began setting up indoor food lines.


In many ways the agonies of the national battle over dealing with homelessness are etched into this four-block-square section of Hollywood, where industrial buildings, including the Cemex cement factory, film production facilities and the stately former headquarters of Howard Hughes’s enterprises, sit two blocks up North Sycamore Avenue away from a middle-class neighborhood of Spanish Mission homes. Construction in the area is bustling, reflecting the gentrification that is taking place across this city.


The coalition’s truck, a Grumman Kurbmaster, arrives every night at 6:15, drawing as many as 200 people from across the region.


The other night, men and women lined up for firsts and, if desired, seconds. Some were quiet and grateful, and a few were loud and agitated. “You all right?” Mr. Landreth asked one man who was shouting to himself.

Just up the street, 75 people filled a living room, anxiously exchanging stories about what many described as a neighborhood under siege, and demanding help from local officials.


“You guys have had your fill here — we know that,” Officer Dave Cordova of the Los Angeles Police Department told them. “And the food coalition doesn’t help. Where do all these guys go after they get something to eat?”


Peter Nichols, the founder of the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch, which helped organize the meeting, said there has been a steady increase in complaints about petty crime, loitering, public defecation and people sleeping on sidewalks.


“While it sounds good in concept — I’m going to pull up to a curb, I’m going to feed people, I’m going to clean up and I’m going to leave — well, there are not restrooms,” he said. “Can these people get a place to sleep? To clean up? We want there to be after-care provided every day they do the program. But they don’t and they can’t.”


What Mr. Landreth described as the most serious threat in its existence — a powerful combination of opposition from homeowners, businesses and city officials — is stirring deep concern among the people who come here to eat most nights.


“I know because of the long lines, a lot of times we have trouble and confusion,” said Emerson Tenner, 46, as he waited for a meal. “But there are people here who really need this. A few people act a little crazy. Don’t mess it up for everyone else.”


Aaron Lewis, who said he makes his home on the sidewalk by a 7-Eleven on Sunset Boulevard, chalked up opposition to what he described as rising callousness to people in need.


“That’s how it is everywhere,” Mr. Lewis said. “People here — it’s their only way to eat. The community doesn’t help us eat.”