Los Angeles Considers Ban on Publicly Feeding Homeless People


Despite government agencies, such as the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, spending $82 million per year to help the city's homeless, Los Angeles has the second-highest homeless population in the country at 53,800 individuals.

Ed Yourdon/Flickr

So to help mitigate the problem, organizations like the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition serve nightly hot meals to long lines of hungry residents in mobile food trucks parked at various parts of the city. The GWHFC, which has been operating for 27 years staffed by volunteers, prides itself on providing up to 200 meals per night, as well as offering emotional support and "specific, practical help" to its patrons when possible. Their motto is "I Am My Brother's Keeper."

Not everyone is pleased with the charity's presence though.

Two members of the Los Angeles City Council recently proposed an ordinance that would ban private charities and individuals from feeding homeless people in public. The politicians behind the legislation, Tom LaBonge and Mitch O'Farrell (both Democrats), have said they are responding to concerns from residents who are uncomfortable with the homeless spending lots of time around their homes. 

One such resident, Alexander Polinsky, an actor who lives two blocks from the popular bread line, told the New York Times: 

If you give out free food on the street with no other services to deal with the collateral damage, you get hundreds of people beginning to squat. They are living in my bushes and they are living in my next door neighbor's crawl spaces. We have a neighborhood which now seems like a mental ward.

Essentially, Councilman LaBonge argued, the charitable food line is creating a public nuisance. "[It] has overwhelmed what is a residential neighborhood," he told the Times. "When dinner is served, everybody comes and it's kind of a free-for-all."

Opponents of the ban have expressed their frustration at what they consider heartless, overreaching legislation. 

"This is an attempt to make difficult problems disappear," Jerry Jones, the executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless told the Times, adding, "It's both callous and ineffective."

Debra Morris, a patron of the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition, said that the organization is "helping human beings," as she was seated in a wheelchair enjoying the evening's offering of pasta with tomato sauce. "I can barely pay my own rent."

If Los Angeles enacts the ordinance, the Times reports, it will join more than 30 other cities "that have adopted or debated some form of legislation intended to restrict the public feeding of the homeless." Last year for instance, Mayor Bloomberg banned food donations to the homeless in New York City on the grounds that the city couldn't assess the food's salt, fat, and fiber content. In Orlando, Florida, police have arrested volunteers feeding homeless people in parks for violating a city ordinance. The National Coalition for the Homeless calls the trend the "criminalization of homelessness in U.S. cities."

In the Atlantic Cities, Emily Badger writes:

These laws…look like attempts to push the homeless out of public view. If a city can't get rid of these people, in other words, maybe it can get rid of the activities that so visibly attract them.

If the purpose of the legislation is to reduce the presence of homeless people in public though, then why don't cities ban homelessness outright? It turns out that politicians actually tried just that in Los Angeles in the early 2000's. The city passed an ordinance that made it illegal to sleep on the street. However, a judge eventually overturned it as unconstitutional. 

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  1. Why not just mandate that everyone has to buy a home?

    1. “If you like your home, you can keep it.”


      If it is up to standard.

      And is wheelchair accessible.

      And has a health clinic. And a school, even if you are childless.

    2. In all practicality, it’s that way already. For example, you can’t open a bank account without an address. Nor, functionally, do anything else.

      So when the topic is the ‘homeless’ it less often means that they don’t have a spot they hang their hat, it means they don’t have a Federally approved mailbox.

  2. Despite government agencies, such as the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, spending $82 million per year to help the city’s homeless, Los Angeles has the second-highest homeless population in the country at 53,800 individuals.


    I think they might be getting the direction of the connection between spending and count exactly backwards.

    1. Meh. LA is the second largest metro area in the US so you’d think they’d have a huge homeless pop and a huge social services budget (SLD) for that. Also, freezing to death in LA not as much a problem as in NY (#1) or Chicago (#3). So…

      1. I think S’s point is that government or private charity makes being homeless in that area more attractive than in other localities, causing people at the margin to move to the area.

        1. If I was mayor of a Midwestern city I would have a standing policy of offering the homeless one way bus tickets SF or LA.

        2. Bingo.

          There’s an old story about a peacock who escaped from a zoo. It wasn’t found for quite a while, until a woman called the zoo to report that it was in her yard: “I keep feeding it and feeding it, but it won’t go away!”

          The last I checked, San Francisco spends $200 million/year on the homeless.

  3. Whelp – this is a difficult issue. On the one hand, I fully support private charity and hate government interference in it. On the other – you get more of what you subsidize. The homeless are being attracted to this area and they do not make good neighbors.

    All talk about empathy and heartlessness aside – this is, at its core, an argument about negative externalities. If the charity wishes to continue to place a burden on the residents then they should negotiate with the residents to determine a fair compensation.

    1. Yeah, I’m kind of split on this. It’s easy to criticize when you don’t have former mental patients screaming in your neighborhood at 2 AM.

    2. You have to consider that warm climates such as LA attract homeless in a way that, say, Fargo doesn’t.

    3. How about they each homeless person a bowl of soup and a note saying where they’ll be giving out soup tomorrow?

      1. give each homeless person…

    4. You can make an argument about negative externalities of anything at all. The existence of such an argument is simply not persuasive.

      The core question here is: Are you allowed to give your friends a sandwich? If no, then ban charity as well as Thanksgiving. Otherwise, fuck off.

      1. Oh, come on. Scale matters. Nobody cares if you give a friend a sandwich, but giving hundreds of “friends” hundreds of sandwiches, in a public place, is a different issue.

  4. I bet they’re just doing this to drive us into the streets feeding the homeless in rebellion.

    1. Hmm, maybe its part of the homosexual agenda. Feed the homeless, attract them to the area, drive down the home prices and fill the place with squalor and then the gays swoop in and gentrify the fuck out of it – I’m on to you.

      1. It’s West Hollywood. It’s already got a large population of gays.

        1. An LA City ordinance shouldn’t have an effect on this group operating in West Hollywood, it sounds like the problem is that this charitable group was operating outside of WeHo and in Los Angeles proper.

          Although this could be a plan to start annexing bits of LA proper and flying the rainbow flag over them.

  5. How can there be so many homeless people in a progressive haven like California?

    The pope told me poverty was caused by “unfettered” capitalism, and the world needs to fix it by being more like California.

    1. I think Frank the First meant more like Venezuela.

      1. Oh good, there’s no poverty in Caracas.

        1. And no toilet paper.

    2. “How can there be so many homeless people in a progressive haven like California?”
      “Rent control” helps a lot!

  6. Just curious: LA residents, does LA have rent control?

    1. No, part of the reason that West Hollywood incorporated was to preserve rent control when LA proper phased it out. The other part was so they could have their own, not dickish, police department.

      1. re: nasty cops – I grew up in a suburb of Orlando that was kind of weird. It had a relatively large number of rich people. Although my personal friends mostly came from the working class, I think it still effected my view of cops. I was often surprised reading Radley Balko – for a while.

        The thing there was, anyone might know someone with serious juice. A guitarist I was in a band with formerly played in a band with the Albertson’s heirs. In that environment, cops couldn’t beat on anyone with impunity, because it could definitely come back to haunt them.

        1. Sorry, I didn’t realize how incoherent that post was on first reading. Anyone in the town I lived in might have known someone with serious power – therefore the cops were restrained quite a bit.

    2. No.

      But a cardboard box on a postage stamp sells for about $350,000

    3. Yes. L.A.’s rent control law is stricter than San Francisco’s. Unincorporated areas, however, do not have rent control.

      Rent control always, unceasingly, drives up the cost of housing and lessens the supply.

  7. Sounds like LA is still trying to be San Francisco.

  8. And I’d like to represent JsubD (RIP) who gave us the phrase “Fuck Off, Slaver.”

    1. …who was homeless and posted from the public library and still hewed to the cause of freedom.

      1. Poor one out for the homie.

    2. Good point. Preventative police work is bullshit.

  9. I’ve posted this story on a dead thread.

    I served as a missionary in Slovakia a few years ago. A commonality among all Communist countries in Europe was to take away all of the Church’s social aid, outreach, and charity like soup kitchens, hospitals, and housing because that care was the government’s job. The government claimed it could do it better anyway. Now Communism is gone in those areas, but the Church for half a century and a couple generations did not help those in need. So now it has neither the apparatus, networking, or skilled personnel to help the needy. Guess who steps in to help …?

    When I hear these stories about restrictions to help the homeless I can’t help but wonder if the same thing is subtly happening here. The government by law or regulation is stopping private entities from helping others and the result will be that people will demand that the government help because A. Private entities are not helping or helping enough (due to the regulations) B. The government is the only entity in a position to help

  10. From G.K. Chesterton’s description of a young St. Francis:

    “While [Francis] was selling velvet and fine embroideries to some solid merchant of the town a beggar came imploring alms; evidently in a somewhat tactless manner. It was a rude and simple society and there were no laws to punish a starving man for expressing his need for food, such as have been established in a more humanitarian age….”


  11. Nobody can love the poor as efficiently as Government Almighty can love the poor, because Government Almighty has TONS of PhDs who have degrees, credentials, and licenses in EXACTLY how they are supposed to love the poor! In the meantime, if you want to feed the homeless, and the BAHSTAHDS demand that you trot out proof that you produced that free sandwich for the poor in a three-sink, booger-cootie-free and inspected kitchen, then let me suggest? You put those sandwiches in nice, clean, clear plastic bags, and THROW THEM AWAY in a public dumpster, close to the poor, and tell them NO, Government Almighty tells them they may NOT dumpster-dive after what you have just thrown away? They may NOT!!!

  12. Someone seems to know whats going on over there.


  13. One such resident, Alexander Polinsky, an actor who lives two blocks from the popular bread line, told the New York Times:

    You forgot the scare quotes around “actor”.

    1. It could be either of two guys by that name on IMDB, one with decent credits and one who was in a short in 2006.

  14. Had anybody considered the politicrats have a problem with the charity handing out food because it is not the government. After all, the gov’t can do a much better job of food redistribution distribution if people would stop giving to charities and just forward the money to the state.

  15. Somebody on your property? There’s a natural law for that.

  16. My knee jerk reaction is to condemn this proposal but then I remember that in Hollywood, Ca, 2 doors down from me, a man was decapitated by a homeless guy who broke into his home. There are a lot of crazies in the homeless community and I think it’s easy to forget the real fear that a whole lot of them can create.

  17. Its important to help out and not just “Deal with it”. Most of these people would be better of with a phone. A phone can keep them on their feet with employment and most importantly in touch with their family’s.

    I have dedicated the site below that is information only to help low income individuals in time of need acquire a free phone.

    Government Assistance Help

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