In what resembled a cross between a '60s-style peace rally and an outdoor revival meeting, about 40 homeless men and women staged a candlelight vigil in a Santa Monica park this week, part of the group's "Trek for Justice" through the Westside.
Members of the "Justiceville" activist group, seeking to call attention to the plight of the homeless, last week paraded first to Beverly Hills and then Santa Monica after the City of Los Angeles closed a temporary campground for transients near downtown.
After three days and nights in Santa Monica's Pacific Palisades Park overlooking the ocean, they journeyed to Venice on Tuesday and planned to continue to UCLA later this week.
Leaders of the march say they brought their cause to the Westside because of the area's "affluence and influence."
Before leaving Santa Monica, the group gathered Monday night and lit 19 candles in a 90-minute session of song and impromptu speeches.
With their knapsacks and bedrolls piled to one side, they chanted, "Justice for the homeless," sang anti-war songs and quoted from Martin Luther King Jr. and the Bible. They called on Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and county lawmakers to do more for the homeless.
One man waved a sign that read, "Shelter for the homeless, not the contras ."
"The money being diverted to the contras should be used for the homeless," said the bearer of the sign, Andre Hall, 35, a temporary resident of the Turning Point shelter in Santa Monica.
"A lot of people who are doing well . . . who own businesses, could end up down here," he said. "Anyone can be homeless."
Despite the distribution of flyers inviting Santa Monica residents to join in the vigil, the turnout by "non-homeless" was low.
"A lot of people are frightened. They think of that stereotype of the bum, the drunk on the street," said Lowell Sigmund, 57, a Brentwood marketing consultant who came to watch the vigil. "But if you come and speak to one on a one-to-one basis, you see it is a person you should care about and not be worried."
During the vigil, an occasional family strolled by, paused and continued, as did a couple of skateboarders and joggers. One man scowled and told participants to "go and get a job."
Coffee and Doughnuts
The reception given the Justiceville members in Santa Monica was subdued in comparison to the welcome they received earlier in Beverly Hills, where the mayor greeted the group with coffee and doughnuts.
Officials say homelessness has been a mounting problem in Santa Monica for the last five years. The city this year budgeted $1 million for its homeless, far more than other Westside communities.
Santa Monica police estimate that there are anywhere from 300 to 1,500 homeless in the city.
"It is a major, controversial issue here. The community is split over what to do about it," said Police Sgt. Russ Martin. "Beverly Hills can go out and extend a hearty welcome because it is a temporary thing. They don't have the problem we do."
Justiceville leaders were undaunted by the low turnout of supporters in Santa Monica.
"There may not be hundreds and thousands out here with us physically, but millions now know who we are," Ted Hayes, an activist for the homeless, told the group.
Among the handful of Santa Monica residents who did attend the vigil was Lyle Gumm, 70. He sat in a blue and white lawn chair he brought for the occasion and quietly watched the goings-on.
"I just came to see what they are like," said Gumm, an 11-year resident of Santa Monica and owner of a public relations firm. "The question of the homeless is a serious one. I don't know what I can do, but my wife and I came to see what can be done. "
The City of Santa Monica waived a ban on camping in city parks to allow the group to remain in Pacific Palisades--as long as the stay was temporary, Sgt. Martin said. He said there were no reports of trouble while the group was there.
"It was clear to us this was a political protest. This is a liberal community . . . and we do not discourage nonviolent, political protests," Martin said.