BAN-THE-BUM MERCHANTS Oppose Homeless Aid: San Pedro, CA FWD

Tom Boland (
Mon, 20 Jul 1998 14:45:50 -0700 (PDT)

Across North America, business associations have formed so-called
grass-roots community groups to ban homeless people and social services,
especially from downtown shopping districts.  I invite your comments and
suggestions on how we homeless people can best respond with this trend, in
terms of securing our life and liberty in the face of such assaults. -- Tom
Boland, Homeless People's Network listserver

"If you're going to make them [the poor] comfortable, there is
no incentive to change," -- Janet Gunter, a founder of CARES
(Community Advocates for Responsible Environmental Safety) , a group that
has been active in trying to halt the number of social service
organizations in San Pedro. -- information from article below
FWD  Los Angeles [CA] Times  Sunday, July 19, 1998


     Poverty: Social service groups and business owners
     clash over community revitalization and the effects
     of caring for the less fortunate.

     By Lindsey M. Arent, LA Times Staff Writer

In San Pedro's downtown business district, where revitalization is underway
on 7th Street, large clay pots with newly planted flowers dot the sidewalk.
New posters hang in shop windows, inviting people to get reacquainted with
the area at a monthly open house.

Everyone is invited. Everyone, that is, except the new neighbors.

Half a block away, in the back of a converted auto repair shop, the clatter
of brown metal folding chairs signals dinner time for a group of homeless
people. They seat themselves in rows for a brief outdoor prayer service,
then collect take-away meals from the mission and quickly disperse.

The Crossing, a nonprofit organization sponsored by 30 churches, feeds San
Pedro's homeless five times a week. It moved into the neighborhood three
weeks ago, and the sight of these new neighbors has sparked concern among
nearby business owners in this port town of 70,000.

San Pedro has suffered economic blows with the shutdown of shipyards,
canneries and military installations. Local merchants, determined to pull
themselves out of more than a decade of economic hardship, are protective
of the area they have been struggling to improve for the last four years.
Many say they fear that an influx of down-and-out types could ruin their
chances for success.

In recent years, social service organizations and merchants have clashed
frequently over the rights of business owners to lift their communities out
of hard times, versus the rights of the poor to

The Crossing's volunteers are accustomed to opposition from neighbors,
having moved the mission to four different locations since its founding in
1986. "Some people would like to move as many of the poor out of San Pedro
as they could, so it could be more of a yuppie community," said Harlan
Heyer, the Crossing's director, who greets many of his clients by name.
"Poor people feel they are part of this community too."

The mission holds a one-year lease on the 7th Street location. At a recent
community meeting, merchants volunteered to find Heyer a new building
elsewhere in the city. With a recent $1-million grant as part of a surplus
Navy land-swap deal, Heyer is hoping to find a space where the Crossing can
expand into a full-scale job training and employment center for families.
And he is open to any help he can get from the business community in
finding a new location.

In the meantime, Heyer has tried to minimize the mission's impact on the
community by urging his clients to leave the area quickly after meals are
handed out and to keep litter and noise levels low.

"Some people think we're going to destroy the downtown area, but I don't
see how we can," he said. "We're here 45 minutes and we're gone."

But Jerry Fagan, who owns a children's clothing store a block away, said he
can already see the Crossing's effects. The other day he and his wife had
to shoo away a transient who was standing behind their store, he said.

"The concern of all the merchants is that these people eat and stay in the
area," he said, "and it breeds this perception that all we've got down here
is a bunch of bums."

"No one is against feeding the homeless," his wife, Liz, added. "But we've
got to protect our own businesses."

The argument is not new. Over the last three years, a debate has raged
among residents, merchants and city officials over what some perceive to be
an over-concentration of special needs facilities in San Pedro. Some say
the addiction recovery facilities and feeding programs in the area attract
panhandlers who loiter in the streets and hamper attempts to revitalize the

Others, however, contend that business owners have wrongly blamed social
service agencies and their clients for economic woes produced by the loss
of nearly 25,000 military and maritime jobs in recent years.

Homeless advocate Alice Callaghan argues that most of the poor who use free
services come from within the community and are genuinely in need of help.

"If people are out on the streets, then they have nowhere else to go," she
said. The merchants "ought to be more concerned with how to help them, than
how to run them out of town."

"Blondie" Huggs, who is living out of a friend's camper and has been coming
to the Crossing for about three months, said she can understand the
merchants' point of view but feels the mission has a right to help out.

"I don't have an income. I depend on them totally," she said of the
mission's volunteers. "There are a lot of us who are out looking and having
trouble finding a job. . . . A lot of people wouldn't eat if it wasn't for

Critics of the mission point out that there are two other feeding programs
in the area.

"There's a real strong support system going on here for the poor," said
Janet Gunter, a founder of CARES (Community Advocates for Responsible
Environmental Safety), a group that has been active in trying to halt the
number of social service organizations in San Pedro.

"If you're going to make them comfortable, there is no incentive to
change," said Gunter, who owns an antique store in the downtown area.

But Nancy and Joe Hernandez, who have six children and have been coming to
the Crossing for years, said the mission helped them to change. When they
were homeless, Heyer helped the family find a place to stay permanently.
Now they come for meals when money is tight. Like most of the mission's
clients, they have heard that the merchants want them out of the

"If they walked in our shoes," Joe Hernandez said, "they'd see it differently.


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