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Dealing With the Homeless

February 25, 1986

Your article indicated that Santa Monica is home to 700 to 1,000 vagrants. As city attorney of Santa Monica, I continue to be troubled by the use of the word "vagrant" to describe the poor and dispossessed in our community.

According to the common dictionary definition, a vagrant is an idle person who wanders from place to place with no visible means of support and who refuses to work, though able to do so. Because of this broad definition, vagrancy laws have an ignoble history in this country. They have tended to sweep within their net poor people and other persons thought to be undesirable by lawmakers and police.

Even today, some Santa Monica citizens have demanded that the city get rid of vagrants. Yet I am unable to determine which of the following categories of homeless persons in Santa Monica should be driven from our borders:

--Families with children unable to find affordable housing.

--Teen-agers fleeing home to seek refuge on the streets because of parental sexual or physical abuse.

--The Vietnam veteran unable to escape the terrors of war.

--Mentally ill persons discharged from state mental institutions.

--Alcohol-dependent persons suffering the ravages of a debilitating disease.

--Other individuals who have fallen through the gaping holes in the safety net of social welfare programs.

"Vagrant" is a pejorative word that is legal and moral deadwood. Its use to categorize human beings should stop.


City Attorney

Santa Monica

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