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Merchants' Motives: Altruistic or Selfish?

August 01, 1993

Homelessness and panhandling are both major problems in our community, but they are not necessarily the same thing. Many of those seen on our streets panhandling are not homeless. Those who are homeless or hungry will not truly be helped by money given to them by passersby.

I was pleased to see your July 11 article about the merchants in Santa Monica ("Brother, Keep Your Dime"). They have joined others in an approach to panhandling that is a winner for everyone. The Beverly Center has a campaign like this, urging people to give money to established service providers like P.A.T.H. (People Assisting the Homeless) rather than the street panhandlers. Management of the Beverly Center has pledged to match customer gifts up to $10,000. Canisters, posters and referral cards are provided in stores.

Such an effort helps provide badly needed funds for credible agencies serving the homeless with meaningful assistance; it gives the public a meaningful opportunity to offer help to the people in real need; it protects the public from panhandlers because they will disappear when the money does; it helps the retailer keep a comfortable atmosphere for his customer.

We are delighted to see this type of partnership between the service providers, the truly needy and the business community. The management and merchants of the Beverly Center, those on the Third Street Promenade, and those in Beverly Hills should be commended for their efforts to provide a way for the community to work together to care and share in a way that really does help.

MICHELE A. SMOLLAR

Los Angeles

Smollar is executive director of People Assisting the Homeless.

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Your article "Brother, Keep Your Dime" was fine as far as it went, but it did not go far enough. You neglected to mention the one thing both "Say No to Panhandling" and "Feed the Dolphins" share: support for the CLARE Foundation.

Six days a week, CLARE provides more than 300 hot lunches, showers, referrals, a drop-in center and, if necessary, detox services to homeless people at the Sober Inn at 901 Pico. We have a 20-bed Youth Recovery Home for teen-agers across the street at 844 Pico. Signs of Recovery up the block at 1027 Pico provides live-in recovery for 12 deaf and hard-of-hearing alcoholics and drug addicts, many of whom came from the streets. Women with children can find shelter and support in our Culver City alcohol-free living center. Fifty recovering adults live together in our three-building facility on Ninth Street.

CLARE's operation is underfunded, yet manages to help thousands of homeless people who want to stop drinking and using drugs to do just that each year. We cannot solve all of Santa Monica's problems. We don't try to. But with the continued support of the community, we can help those who want to help themselves to get off the streets and to live free of drugs and alcohol one day at a time.

RUTH KING

Santa Monica

King is executive director of the CLARE Foundation.

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The merchants who dreamed up the anti-panhandling campaigns covered in "Brother, Keep Your Dime" are completely misguided. Their plots against the poor will never make the homeless vanish.

The homeless are people with almost nothing, who beg rather than die of starvation. They have no choice but to go where people with money are and beg; and as long as the Promenade is such a place, they will be there. They cannot disappear until they have jobs, food and houses to disappear into. Try peevishly to take away the little they have and , far from vanishing , they will have to beg more desperately. All that is happening as a result of the merchants' schemes . . . is that the homeless are now suffering even more than they otherwise would.

More basically, the merchants' program will not work because it does not even pretend to confront the reasons for homelessness. We are in the midst of a national emergency that has to be addressed as such. We need generous funding for housing, for public employment, for a universal health care system. We need to convert military bases into emergency shelters . To pay for this, we need higher taxes on corporations, and a restructuring of the California tax code to end its blatant subsidy of Proposition 13 homeowners. We need to recognize that the only experts on the homeless are the homeless, and that they should direct the solutions to homelessness. In general, we need to do as much as it takes to get every single person without a roof under one.

GERI SILVA

Santa Monica

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