LOS ANGELES — They began showing up at dusk last week, wandering the streets, slumped in wheelchairs and sitting on sidewalks, paper plates perched on their knees. By 6:30 p.m., more than 100 homeless people had lined up at a barren corner in Hollywood, drawn by free meals handed out from the back of a truck every night by volunteers.
But these days, 27 years after the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition began feeding people in a county that has one of the worst homeless problems in the nation, the charity is under fire, a flashpoint in the national debate over the homeless and the programs that serve them.
Facing an uproar from homeowners, two members of the Los Angeles City Council have called for the city to follow the lead of dozens of other communities and ban the feeding of homeless people in public spaces.
“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,” said Alexander Polinsky, an actor who lives two blocks from the bread line. “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.”
Should Los Angeles enact such an ordinance, it would join a roster of more than 30 cities, including Philadelphia, Raleigh, N.C., Seattle and Orlando, Fla., that have adopted or debated some form of legislation intended to restrict the public feeding of the homeless, according to the National Coalition of the Homeless.
“Dozens of cities in recent years,” said Jerry Jones, the coalition’s executive director. “It’s a common but misguided tactic to drive homeless people out of downtown areas.”
“This is an attempt to make difficult problems disappear,” he said, adding, “It’s both callous and ineffective.”
The Garment District witnessed one of the biggest gains, with an assessment-budget increase of $2 million, or nearly 35 percent, to $7.8 million for the coming year. The Alliance for Downtown New York’s yearly assessment surged 21 percent, to $15.8 million in 2013. The lower Manhattan BID expects 400 stores to open in the coming years as new retail space at Brookfield Place andPier 17 fill up.
“There’s a slight uptick this year, given that it’s the end of the administration, and there is slightly more in the asking,” James Mettham, an assistant commissioner at the Department of Small Business Services, told Crain’s. “The increases must be approved by the BID’s board of directors and SBS, and are funded by district merchants and property owners.”
Data given to Crain’s by SBS revealed a median rise in of 21 percent in 2013 assessment-budget among seven of the New York’s 25 largest BIDs.
Robust BID budgets like the Garment District’s are often applied to streetscape and sanitation improvements as well as enhanced public spaces.