Re: LA Soup Kitchen's Homeless Clients Cause Crime, Say Neighbors FWD

Virginia Sellner (
Mon, 27 Apr 1998 09:03:30 -0600 (MDT)

Businesses need to make it clear to those that 'bother their customers' that
they will not put up with that in and around their place -- once they do the
problem for the most part will disappear.  Too often businesses seem to just
want to blame but not help reduce the problem. 

When I first was working with a homeless shelter in the early 80s there were
no bars, etc. in the neighborhood, but soon 3 bars opened and the bus depot
moved next door, and the businesses started blaming our clients for all the
problems that they had with 'undesirables'.  I told them to call me and I
would check and see who they were.  They were NEVER our clients -- they were
local drunks, new in the area because of the addition of the bars, and or
bus depot people waiting to change buses -- it made them angry, but we
proved that it was not the homeless and the police backed us up on that, and
finally the complaints went away.

Virginia Sellner

At 10:40 PM 4/24/98 -0700, Tom Boland wrote:
>FWD Thursday, April 23, 1998
>  By John Canalis - Special to The Langeles Times
>     The diners gather in the shuttered Chinese restaurant refashioned into
>a soup kitchen for a down-home American meal: ham, vegetables, tomato soup
>and cupcakes smothered in electric-pink frosting.  "I couldn't eat like
>this on my SSI," Richard Meredith, 48, said of his government benefits. "A
>lot of people use this soup kitchen, a lot more than general society
>     These days, however, general society is clashing with Someone Cares
>Soup Kitchen about the offering of free meals amid West 19th Street's mix
>of homes for senior citizens, shops, taco stands and the Department of
>Motor Vehicles.
>     Some neighbors and police blame the 150 to 200 daily diners for a
>variety of petty crimes ranging from littering to panhandling. The soup
>kitchen contends that it provides security, screens patrons and is the only
>charity providing regular, sit-down hot meals to the poor in Costa Mesa.
>     Like many of its clients, Someone Cares has led a transient life since
>it opened in 1986 at the Rea Community Center. Now operating for nearly a
>year on property it finally owns at West 19th Street and Pomona Avenue, the
>charity faces familiar complaints and now, a city funding cut that was more
>of a black eye to its image than to its budget.
>     "The same exact guys I see sleeping on the benches, offering to wash
>my windows at the gas station, are the same guys I see having lunch at the
>soup kitchen," said Patsy Latscha, 54, who lives nearby on Center Street.
>"They're getting a free meal, then you see them at the liquor store getting
>drunk right after."
>      Some merchants on West 19th also are complaining since the soup
>kitchen relocated a year ago from a Hamilton Street church courtyard.
>     "My business has dropped 15% to 20%," said Yun Uyu, 56, owner of
>Sunshine Liquor next door to the soup kitchen. "The good customers are not
>going to come here because of the street people."
>     In response to complaints, the City Council recently denied a request
>from Someone Cares for $20,000 in federal grant money, instead approving
>$5,000 be paid next fiscal year. This year, the kitchen received $15,000
>from the city.
>     "I know that people have problems, but they can't cause grief for the
>citizens," said City Councilman Joe Erickson, who suggested the cuts. "The
>free food allows them to have cash to buy drinks, and when they drink we
>have problems. I believe in helping your fellow man, but I don't believe in
>helping an alcoholic buy his next drink."
>     Thanks to a $5,000 anonymous donation, Someone Cares has survived the
>cut, and does not expect to reduce services from its annual budget of about
>$100,000--most of which comes from private donations.
>     "It's not going to close my front door," said Merle Hatleberg, 74,
>director and founder of the soup kitchen. "If it's a sin to be poor and
>walk into a soup kitchen then shame on us."
>     Hatleberg said her primary clients are the working poor, not
>criminals, and she goes to great lengths to protect neighbors and screen
>out problems. Security guards try to deter loitering and deny entry to
>intoxicated customers.
>     Bill Turpit, head of Families-Costa Mesa, a social services network on
>19th Street across the street from the soup kitchen, blames others for the
>social problems: "I think it's just as much a product of the bars and
>liquor stores. If anything, [the soup kitchen] encourages people to sober
>up during the day."
>     At Rio's Jewelry and Loan on the other side of the soup kitchen, owner
>Steve Simmons said he hasn't experienced any problems.
>     In response to the controversy, police, soup kitchen volunteers and
>Erickson met April 16 and agreed to print identification cards that will be
>required for free meals. Every time a patron is picked up for breaking the
>law, a hole will be punched in it. On the third punch, the card is
>     "If it's my people, I want to know," Hatleberg said. "I am trying to
>work with the city as much as I can."
>     At the Costa Mesa Senior Center, less than a block away, police have
>been called occasionally for problems involving loitering or the elderly
>being harassed for change or cigarettes, but there's no way of knowing
>whether the troublemakers eat at the soup kitchen, director Thomas Gould
>     Police say they can tell.
>     Soup kitchen client April Johnson, 23, said free meals deter trouble:
>"If they do away with the soup kitchens, crime will go up because people
>have to eat. You'd have most of us in jail for shoplifting food."
>* * *
>NEIGHBORHOODS / West 19th Street, Costa Mesa
>Bounded by: Newport Boulevard on the east and Monrovia Avenue on the west.
>Population: About 5,000 people in surrounding vicinity; includes mix of
>businesses, Costa Mesa Senior Center, Department of Motor Vehicles, Bethel
>Towers senior citizen housing complex and several homes.
>Hot topic: Whether patrons of Someone Cares Soup Kitchen are causing
>problems, including loitering and panhandling.
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Wyoming Coalition for the Homeless
P. O. Box 1232
Cheyenne, WY 82003