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Homeless in the harbor

Compassion and proactive action is need to assist homeless people off dangerous streets.

Flier promoting support for homeless people posted in response to anti-panhandler bills on the corner of 7th Street and Pacific Coast Highway.

Hanna Suarez

Flier promoting support for homeless people posted in response to anti-panhandler bills on the corner of 7th Street and Pacific Coast Highway.

Hanna Suarez, Opinions Editor

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Last week, third district councilwoman Suzie Price moved for a legal item which would prohibit panhandling on city mediums, such as busy intersections, in an effort to keep drivers and solicitors safe.

According to an article by the Long Beach Post, one infamous example of where such risky solicitation occurs is at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and 2nd Street, which is within Price’s district.

The article also reports that one man, Stefan Borst Censullo, opposed the supported action. Censullo spoke out to say, “This [measure] is an attempt by the cosponsors to, at best, remove poor people out of sight and out of mind, and at worst, it represents a continuing trend by the city to criminalize poverty.”

The phenomenon might be witnessed up the highway on the sunny side of 7th Street, where weathered and worn vagabonds stand with sober eyes toward oncoming traffic and stake their claims on the concrete slabs with torn pieces of cardboard. They hold signs that read: “Homeless student, anything helps,” or “Homeless veteran. God Bless You,” and “Hungry and homeless,”— harrowing reminders of poverty’s humble offices.

As if the task of panhandling were not humiliating enough, an anonymous individual went out of their way to post laminated signs on posts at this intersection which say, “IT’S OK TO SAY NO TO PANHANDLERS / AND THEIR HABITS INSTEAD GIVE TO / LOCAL CHARITIES.” This was an even more disconcerting presence.

Upon further consideration, I realized that the flier does make several gross accusations. First of all, the term “panhandler” has got to be one of the most degrading labels. The meaning of panhandling is understood as the act of begging. The poster does further injury by accusing homeless people of “habits,” (undoubtedly, drugs) which increases negative stigmas that further dehumanize less fortunate people who are simply trying to survive.

There are major problems concerning the language that is tossed around, not only do words like “panhandler,” and “free-loader,” erase any kind of struggle that homeless people face, but it prevents compassion, empathy and proactive action.

Lawmaker’s like Price who make the eradication of homeless people their priorities miserably fail humans, for the benefit of wealthy residents and economic prospect. Effectively, legal actions like panhandling bans make it clear that homeless people are not allowed to be in public spaces, therefore not allowed to exist.

The Gazettes reports in a January article from last year that East Long Beach residents were becoming increasingly frustrated by homeless people on the streets of Belmont Shore. The report covers different areas of concern posed by residents, Price and executive director of the Belmont Business Association, Dede Rossi.

Price offers, “The homeless today are very different than they were three or four years ago. We’re at a point where we don’t really know how to deal with them. Some are drug addicts, and they’re choosing to be homeless.”

Another clear example of the dehumanization of homeless people, making them out to be more like animals or vermin to be dealt with. I wouldn’t be surprised if Price’s constituents were involved with the posters at the intersection of 7th Street and PCH (I have yet to check if there are any on PCH and 2nd Street).

In the same article, Rossi makes her priorities clear, stating that “the only way to move panhandlers from the district is to change the public’s behavior,” and cites solutions like changing out open trash cans for closed ones and calling for people to stop giving them money, concluding that, “Some of them need help, but others seem to just live that way.”

Of course, Rossi, who can explain it? Why sprawl on the street when you could live on a cozy villa along the Naples Canal, drink Long Island iced teas while you stroke your lap terrier and marvel at the crisp ocean breeze?

Public behaviour definitely needs to change –  but not in the way the likes of Rossi and Price want it to. We need a  public that is welcoming of change, not just a public that offers change from their pockets and cupholders. A public that shows no pity, but compassion. A public that offers help, resources, a hand in need.

Taking a closer look at the hateful fliers on the intersection, I spotted a couple, diligently “panhandling,” standing in defiance of the signs which reject their existence. As I was digging for the quarters in my wallet, I noticed another poster on the other side of the street.

“I’D RATHER HAVE PANHANDLERS IN MY COMMUNITY THAN HEARTLESS NEIGHBORS. To the person posting signs discouraging helping homeless people: EVERYONE THINKS YOU’RE A DICK KNOCK IT OFF. My signs will stop when yours do. ☺”

Attached was a laminated card with resources and services.


Now that is a start.

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