As the afternoon sun cast long shadows across Edward Williams' makeshift cook stove, the talk among fellow transients at West Hollywood Park turned to food.
"We could go (dumpster) diving," suggested a man in a blue cap who said he used to be a Marine.
Instead, he and four others decided to pool their money and split a medium-size pizza.
"We look out for each other over here," said Williams, 24, who has lived in the park off and on for two years. "Just like you've got a place you call home, we've got ours, and this is it."
But an attempt by the county Sheriff's Department to close West Hollywood's two parks from midnight to 6 a.m. threatens to take away these havens for the city's homeless.
Citing a 46% increase in serious crime at West Hollywood and Plummer parks during the last eight months, including six stabbings in the parks during the past two months, Capt. Mark Squiers of the Sheriff's Department on Monday renewed his recommendation to the City Council that park hours be restricted.
An estimated 50 to 75 homeless live in Plummer Park, while two dozen live in West Hollywood Park.
The council, which had twice delayed considering the matter since Squiers first made the recommendation last December, on Monday postponed a decision until March 7.
Instead, at the urging of Mayor Alan Viterbi, the council asked social services director Jodi Curlee to prepare an "emergency recommendation" for sheltering the homeless should it decide to close the parks at midnight.
"If we're going to ask the park residents to go elsewhere, then the question is, where is the elsewhere to be?" said Sandra Jacoby Klein, chairman of the Human Services Commission, which opposes changing park hours.
She was among several opponents of the plan who spoke against the Sheriff's Department recommendation Monday.
Mike Radcliffe, president of the Movietown Plaza Merchants Assn., whose members own businesses on Santa Monica Boulevard across the street from Plummer Park, had another reason.
"If you close the parks with no adequate place for (the homeless) to go, then they'll be on our (merchants') doorsteps, and I don't think that's a satisfactory alternative," he said.
Although the parks are currently closed each day from 3 to 5 a.m., the Sheriff's Department has not routinely evicted homeless people from the parks.
"It puts the deputy in a bad situation to be asked to go into those places between 3 and 5 and roust people from sleep, and then have them wander around for a couple of hours," Squiers said. "It isn't fair to the officers or to the homeless people."
Closure of the parks at midnight is necessary if enforcement is to succeed, Squiers said, adding that the "crime situation in the parks has gotten out of hand."
He said "street hustlers and drug users" had in recent months "turned Plummer Park into a virtual war zone during the early morning hours. . . . A lot of the problems we're seeing are homeless-on-homeless crimes."
In an interview, Lloyd Long, the city's director of human services, said "the perception of crime" had hurt participation in several youth and senior citizen programs in the parks. "When you have incidents of a criminal nature it follows that it's going to make people want to stay away," he said.
While most serious crimes in recent months have occurred in Plummer Park, parks and recreation staff members have complained of increased incidents of confrontation and intimidation involving homeless people in West Hollywood Park, Squiers said.
For most of the two dozen men who call West Hollywood Park home, the threat of eviction is especially upsetting because they are gay.
"If you're homeless, that's bad enough," said Scotty Anderson, 32, who has been diagnosed as having AIDS. "But if you're gay and homeless, you need all the moral support you can get."
He, Williams and their friends represent an isolated band among West Hollywood's burgeoning homeless population--victims, they insist, of both a general apathy toward homelessness and of anti-gay prejudice among the homeless themselves.
"I don't understand how (the City Council) can want to spend $25 million for a new Civic Center and be talking about throwing us out of the only home we've got," said Paul Webber, 32. "You call that decent?"
Squiers, in his remarks to the council, suggested that the city may be the victim of its own good reputation for dealing with the homeless.
"As long as you make it easy for surrounding jurisdictions not to deal with the problem, you'll be dealing with it forever," he said.
West Hollywood instituted a Homeless Project a year and a half ago to help care for the needs of the homeless, including counseling services and provisions for emergency shelter that are generally more liberal than those provided by the county.
Under the auspices of the city's Homeless Project, community volunteers each day provide a brown bag dinner to the homeless at Plummer Park.