Staff Editorial: Feeding the homeless now illegal

It is now illegal to feed the homeless in Santa Monica. 

This may sound a bit like a warning sign at the Grand Canyon to prevent people from feeding the squirrels, but as of Oct. 23, the Santa Monica City Council requires a group serving 150 or more people to obtain a city permit and meet county health standards.  Moreover, the city passed another ordinance that would make it illegal to sit or lie in doorways between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

So now, instead of showing compassion for those without food and shelter, the city of Santa Monica officially pulled in its welcome mat.

When Santa Monica passed an ordinance in 1997 to ban transients from lounging on Third Street Promenade, we could see the practical reason behind this measure. Perhaps the homeless people were driving business on Third Street Promenade down. Perhaps this was done to prevent crimes on this shopping haven and in neighborhood areas. 

A couple of years ago, the Santa Monica City Council passed an ordinance that prevented transients from camping in its municipal park. They justified their action by giving large grants to private agencies that feed the homeless. But wait, now that they’re also banning some of these groups from feeding the homeless, how is the city of Santa Monica going to justify their action this time? Are they going to give money directly to the homeless? Or will they simply pass more laws until all the homeless people are driven out of the city? 

While these ordinances were aimed at appeasing the business owners, residents and tourists of Santa Monica who have complained about the increasing numbers of homeless on the street, in reality, the ordinances do nothing to help solve the problems with homelessness. The new ordinances will only sweep the dilemma to another city.          

It’s absurd to think that by passing the ordinance on feeding the homeless, the city of Santa Monica will deter its problems with the homeless people. For one, if homeless people can’t get food legitimately, then they will ultimately have to find some other way to eat. Whether that would be stealing, or waiting for scraps at the back of Santa Monica restaurants, we think none of the other options sound as appealing as allowing charities to feed the homeless directly.

 Councilman Herb Katz, a leading proponent of these ordinances, states in a recent KABC interview that residents of Santa Monica “don’t feel comfortable or safe.”

“I think what we're doing is making it livable for everyone,” he said. “We've let this whole thing run amok.” 

Making it livable for everyone? The statement would be true if homeless people actually had a place to live. 

In a city where many of its residents live beyond the average standard of living, it’s preposterous to say driving the homeless out and by making it harder to feed them will make Santa Monica “more livable.” Moreover, it’s depressing that those who want to help the homeless are being deterred by the city from doing so. 

We understand there are problems associated with homeless people, but we don’t believe making it harder for groups to feed the homeless is a good answer to solve the problem. Sorry, but the homeless aren’t like the squirrels at the Grand Canyon. They are people just like us and their fate could happen to us. It doesn’t matter how many there are, you can’t prevent people from feeding the homeless in hopes that they would rely on themselves for food. It’s unrealistic and simply wrong.

But the reality of the matter is that the ordinance has passed and will be enforced.  Now, its up to groups like the ones at Pepperdine who normally serve to less than 150 people to step up and extend their services. It’s still legal to serve peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to 50 or even 149 people. As called by the Christian mission of this school, we should be more compelled to help the homeless in Santa Monica who need our help more than ever.