The city’s intervention into a dispute between the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition and its neighbors prompted a demonstration by the Monday Night Mission in Hollywood last Saturday.
Representatives of the mission, which serves homeless individuals on Skid Row, feared that a motion by Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, 4th District, would impact the organization’s assistance for the homeless.
“We’ve never been political,” mission founder Mel Tillekeratne said. “We’ve never taken a political stance, but if this passes, it is going to make sharing food on the street illegal. This basically will shut us down.”
The councilman’s proposal stems from complaints filed by businesses, neighbors and other entities, such as the Hollywood Media District BID, that claim the food coalition operates in a location not suited for a food distribution program, adversely affects the neighborhood and brings crime into the area, among other things.
The Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition serves meals to homeless individuals out of a food truck at 6:15 p.m. every day at the southeast corner of Romaine Street and Sycamore Avenue.
LaBonge’s motion directs several entities — the city attorney, the board of public works, the department of disability, the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the county health department and the LAPD — to report on measures that would address providing meal service to individuals in the public right of way.
It requests the city attorney to report on efforts that other municipalities have used to address non-commercial feeding in such areas and draft legislation that would rectify the issue — in consultation with the bureau of street services, LAHSA and the LAPD.
The motion was tabled by the council’s Public Works and Gang Reduction Committee on Oct. 16, and will be heard again at a date that has yet to be determined.
“It is heart-breaking to see people lining up on the street to be fed from the back of a truck,” LaBonge said in a statement. “I know we can do better as a city. We have been working with the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition for the year that it has been operating in my district to find a location off the street for this program.”
He said he is working with the coalition to find a permanent location for its services, and his office has donors “lined up to support” the cause.
“This is an important service to the members of our community who are most in need, and I am committed to finding a location for this service to operate,” LaBonge said, stressing that the motion does not ban public food distribution programs. “Finding a new site has been a challenge, but I believe we can and will do better for the most vulnerable people in our city.”
Ted Landreth and his wife, Penny, operate the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition and were among the founding members 26 years ago. He said the coalition has been serving nutritious meals to the homeless in Hollywood since 1990, shortly after the city of West Hollywood withdrew a subsidy given to the organization.
Landreth said the city of West Hollywood created the organization in hopes of feeding the homeless, but later severed ties with the coalition. The split was reportedly related to resident complaints, but representatives of the city said the city of West Hollywood had nothing to do with its formation.
If other entities are willing to raise the money, the food coalition would be “delighted” to get off the streets, Landreth said. He said the ideal situation would be for the coalition to serve meals in a parking lot, but he doesn’t want to use coalition funding to lease space.
“That’s helping the landlords. That’s not helping the people we want to help,” Landreth added.
Peter Nichols, co-founder of the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch, said community groups have been working to get the food coalition a home for almost six years. He said the organizations have collectively spent “hundreds of man hours” working with Landreth to resolve the issues that arise from the operation.
“This is nothing new. We’ve been doing this with them for six years, and it goes nowhere,” Nichols said. “It’s reached the point where the neighbors are sick and tired of being sick and tired. …What more can we do? Please tell us.”
He said the community’s biggest concerns are the aftermath of the daily meals. Area neighbors have dealt with squatting, break-ins, trespassing, drug use on their properties, petty thefts and more, though it can be difficult to attribute some of the incidents to the coalition’s clientele, Nichols said.
“He cannot be his own police force,” he said of Landreth. “He can’t, and the community can’t rely on that. There’s an honest worry.”
Hollywood Division Capt. Peter Zarcone said the coalition’s operation does have an impact on residents, but mostly in the form of nuisance and quality of life issues.
“It’s not a huge crime issue, but of course, every time you have a large group of homeless people, there could be elements within that group that could contribute to crime, but there has not been an increase,” he said. “There has not been a significant crime problem as a result.”
Zarcone said it would be preferable for the coalition to move indoors, but understands that limited funding and resources can make that difficult.
“I would like to see the community and these groups come together to come up with an area that’s less impactful to the residents … and find a parking lot or an open area where we could get them some bathroom facilities and stuff like that,” he said, adding that the community is working to bring resources together.
Landreth said members of the coalition sympathize with any resident in the area who has been affected by individuals who may have been clients of the coalition. He said it is possible that some of the clients have been misbehaving.
“We would like to know, to the extent possible, who they are,” Landreth said, adding that the angry neighbors don’t like to talk to the coalition on those terms. “They just want to get rid of us.”
He confirmed that Dustin Kinnear, a transient who is charged with fatally stabbing 23-year-old Christine Calderone near Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue in June, had been a client. Kinnear has also volunteered with the coalition for one day, Landreth said.
“He came to be fed. He was somebody we saw maybe once or twice,” he said, adding that the coalition doesn’t interrogate every client regarding his or her past. Landreth said some clients will occasionally be accused of a crime. “That was the case with this person. It’s a tragedy, actually, that we didn’t get to know him better [and help steer him away from crime].”
He said some community members act as if the coalition and its clients are responsible for everything wrong in the neighborhood.
“They are not all criminals. Most of them wouldn’t think of committing a crime, wouldn’t think of trespassing or doing anything else to break the law,” Landreth said, adding that the coalition has a good relationship with the LAPD.
Nichols said the neighborhood’s biggest crime issues involve crimes of opportunity and petty thefts, but stories like Calderone’s are unnerving.
“When people read and hear about things like that, it terrifies them,” he said, referencing organizations, such as SOVA, that do not generate such complaints from their neighbors. “This thing can be done, and it can be done better. That’s what we want.”
Tillekeratne, of the Monday Night Mission, and Landreth said the services are desperately needed.
“Literally, a lot of people come into the line twice so they can get dinner and save something for breakfast,” Tillekeratne added.
Nichols said that the neighborhood does not wish to omit the homeless, but simply limit the collateral damage created by the operation. He said he understands the mission’s concerns.
“That’s totally understandable,” Nichols said. “All voices need to be part of the solution — always.”
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