A panhandler working the downtown area was charged with stabbing to death a man who refused to give him 25 cents last week. Increasingly, sympathy for those seeking a handout has turned into fear or anger. In August, the Los Angeles City Council adopted an ordinance that prohibits aggressive panhandling and bars panhandlers from approaching motorists, soliciting within 15 feet of ATMs or in restaurants and public transportation. The ACLU filed suit in federal court opposing these limits. STEPHEN KNIGHT is director of Chrysalis, a job assistance program that operates in downtown, Hollywood and Santa Monica. He talked with JANE SPILLER about panhandling.
I don't think you should give. The majority of panhandling is done for two reasons: They want money to buy drugs or they are panhandling because it's their job, that's how they make a living.
I've done a lot of outreach where I've gone out on the streets and talked to people and seen what their needs are, what they want. I'll talk to them about our program and say, "We can get you a job." There are people I can get to come in for services but others just say, "Can you spare some change?" I'll say, "No, but here's my card. I can get you a job." Some people say, "Oh that's great" and they'll take advantage of it but probably more times than not people who are panhandling don't want that job. They've said to me, "I don't want your job. I just want some money."
The bottom line is, there are too many people out there who abuse what panhandling is meant to be--for needy people. In all honesty, they're not needy or the money's not going toward what they say it's going toward.
I've seen somebody in front of a convenience store who was one of my neighbors in Hollywood, and he'd go out and panhandle and make $70, maybe $100, a day and he went right into a nicely furnished apartment every day.
Panhandlers prey upon the people who have a conscience. I'd like to deter that. People should have a conscience, but they need to know where to apply it.
A panhandling alternative is something like the Dolphin Change Program run through the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce Homeless Task Force. You see this dolphin that has little coin slits and the public can put money into it. They have them near where there are panhandlers, like on 3rd Street Promenade and on the pier. The program brings in around $25,000 a year and that money goes directly to services, things the client actually needs, clothing, even counseling. Four or five organizations a year each will get $5,000. It's one of the best programs I've seen because it goes straight to the homeless service providers with no red tape.
Very few panhandlers are asking for money because they need food. They're doing it because that's what their job is. You can make a good living.
Runaway kids--because they're young--can play up the tourists. Especially in Hollywood, they can easily make $100 a day. They use it for drugs or maybe to get a hotel room and put 10 people in it or something.
I know you see signs saying "Homeless, will work for food" or "Will work for money." There are programs for those people to go into. Chrysalis offers anything from day labor where they do street cleaning jobs for $5.25 an hour, minimum wage, all the way to computer jobs.
If they're homeless because of hard times, we'll help them. If they're homeless and addicted to drugs, we'll get them into a rehab, refer them to a place where they can "detox" and help themselves. There are so many things out there that they can go to. My point to the public is: Put the money into the hands of somebody who's really going to help them.
If people really see somebody they know is hungry, why not walk them to restaurant, get them a meal and bring it out. That way you know where your money's going.
Beyond that, there are so many organizations and so many programs geared for helping people who are hungry. So many churches and organizations that every day, lunch and dinner, seven days of the week, offer meals to the homeless or to low-income people.