In an innovative effort to prevent panhandling by vagrants who stand outside stores, in parks and on busy street corners, Santa Monica merchants may be asked to place collection cans for the homeless inside their shops.
The plan, which is being touted as a humanitarian way of providing aid to vagrants, was suggested by Santa Monica City Councilman Dennis Zane.
Zane said the collections could be used to pay for food or shelter. He said residents may feel less pressured to give money to panhandlers if there were other means of helping them, and that panhandlers might stop begging if no one gives them money.
"I think it's a good idea," Zane said in an interview Wednesday. "I will be urging the staff to develop a program that can be used as a prototype."
Tried in Brazil
Under Zane's plan, which is based on an idea that has been tried in Brazil, the money raised by merchants would go directly to social agencies that help the homeless. The names and addresses of the agencies would be printed on cards and distributed by the city, and merchants and residents would be encouraged to give the cards to vagrants.
Mark Harding, chairman of a business task force called the Citizen's Committee for a Safer Santa Monica, said the idea may have some merit. Harding said the committee, which is studying ways to deal with the city's sizable homeless population, is open to any idea that discourages panhandling.
"I don't think there would be opposition to having some sort of collection within the stores," Harding said. "We would have to sit down and negotiate, and we might end up confining it to the most heavily impacted areas."
The committee will formally discuss Zane's idea at a meeting July 1. Harding said City Council members and representatives from area social service agencies will be invited to participate.
City officials have estimated that as many as 1,000 vagrants may be living in Santa Monica. Most of them congregate downtown, in Palisades Park and along the beach. Residents, especially the elderly, have complained about panhandlers for several years. And merchants in the downtown area say vagrants who ask people for spare change are scaring away customers.
Eager for Solution
Jackie Tadich, chairwoman of the Merchants Assn. of the Santa Monica Outdoor Mall, a downtown area that is especially popular with vagrants, said her group would consider Zane's idea. She said merchants along the mall are eager for a solution to the panhandling problem.
"The problem has improved a little over the years," Tadich said Wednesday. "But the nicer the weather, the more (homeless) people that come here. Many of them just walk the mall and approach people for money."
Mayor James P. Conn said he probably would endorse the collection-can program if the business community decides that it is a good idea.
"The idea is to do two things," Conn said. "One is to divert the money supporting panhandlers to things that meet the needs of all homeless people. The other is to give homeless people some clarity about where to receive the services they need. . . . I would like to see us try it an as experiment."
In a related development, the council on Tuesday directed its staff to install bulletin boards in Palisades Park listing the names and locations of agencies that provide services for the homeless. The plan was suggested by Councilman David Finkel.