Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Don't Feed the Homeless!

“Meet me at Third and Fairfax,” is the landmark sign in front of the Farmer’s Market. It’s a must-see on tourist maps, a great place for sampling ethnic food with a comfortable ambience to spend an afternoon. My office is three blocks east so I frequently meet colleagues for leisurely lunch and good conversation.

Charlotte Gusay and I sat under the elm tree between The Gumbo Pot and the Pizzeria food stalls. My seafood gumbo was spicy and welcome on the cool fall day. The garden salad was sprinkled with roasted pecans, accompanied with a corn muffin. Quite a hardy lunch. Charlotte nibbled on her toasted chicken salad.

We pushed aside our lunch trays and continued the conversation. A young man, mid-30s, clean shaven, casually dressed with a backpack slung over his shoulder approached us and inquired if he could have the remains of our lunch. “Absolutely, I responded.”

He picked up our trays and walked to a nearby table. “You can’t eat that food,” the security guard sternly told the man.

“I gave it to him,” retorted Charlotte, “we’re finished and he’s hungry.”

“It’s against the Farmer’s Market rules, this is private property. He’s “panhandling” and we don’t allow that.

“People are hungry,” I shouted at the guard as I jumped up from my seat. “He can eat at our table.”

“No,” as he called for another guard.

“Give me back my food and I’ll wrap it up for him,” I challenged.

Again, “No, it’s against the rules.”

By this time we were attracting attention from other customers. “Please give him my bottle of water,” said the elderly lady at the next table.

The young man was insulted, clearly he was not used to a public display of his situation. He attempted to defend his rights and ward off the humiliation. To no avail. The guards escorted him out of the Farmer’s Market. A gentleman at the next table followed them to the street hoping to provide assistance to the homeless fellow. He, too, was not allowed to buy lunch at the Farmer’s Market for the young stranger. He gave him five dollars to buy lunch somewhere else.

We were helpless as we watched the waitress remove food trays from the tables, all laden with enough leftovers to feed more than a dozen hungry people. I thought this is the season of giving.


  1. Wow. The "Farmer's Market" is clearly not a place for community anymore - but another private, fenced in and controlled property. I'm astounded.

  2. I've enjoyed dining at the Farmer's Market for decades. I see this kind of thing happening and it makes me sick - I've been in this young man's shoes, going hungry for days at a time. If the folks at the Farmer's Market want to treat customers and/or a person down on his/her luck in this fashion, then the Farmer's Market no longer deserves or will receive anymore business from me. I know others who will be digusted with these kinds of policies and will recommend to them to eat elsewhere when visiting Los Angeles. Gee whiz, it's the Holiday Season (regardless of beliefs) and others in need should be helped at all times. Sorry Farmers Market, you've lost a customer and I'm sure many more.


  3. I'm no longer a customer of the Farmer's Market. There are too many other places to go in Los Angeles. Someday they'll realize that.

  4. I've been working across the street from the Farmer's Market for about fifteen years and have watched the Grove go up and the atmosphere of the whole neighbourhood change. The only reason the FM still resembles it's old self is that they owners of the property thing it's ol'timey quirkiness is a benefit to the making of money. As soon as a makeover is perceived as being more profitable, the FM will be changed beyond recognition.

  5. I for one do not think it is appropriate for homeless people to be hanging out at a private facility, or even a public one, getting food. Like many people, I would stop visiting Farmer's Market if it became overrun with homeless people. There are many services that provide help for people in need, and handing out food and money, though well-meaning, only makes the panhandling problem continue. Just say no to panhandling.

  6. This is outrageous. I won't be visiting the farmer's market anytime soon.

  7. I can understand your point of view, however, if the Farmer's Market didn't take a stand against panhandling then there would be a lot more of it going on there. And, that would be bad for business. The market is at fault though for not training its security guards to act with more decency towards the homeless. Further, security should be instructed on how to explain the Farmer's Market position to people such as yourself who obviously care. Maybe the Farmer's Market contributes regularly to Homeless causes because it has a history of dealing with this situation. They should make their position clear to avoid bad publicity especially during the holidays. On a side note, you should be commended on taking a stand as not many people would have done so. And, I must say, you have good taste in food. I love the Gumbo Pot. Merry Xmas!

  8. I have to say, I am on the fence about this. I do not think panhandling is okay at a public facility, however, in this case the people who purchased the food should have the right to do whatever they want to with the food THEY purchsed.

  9. Individual reactions to the immediate needs of homeless individuals will vary. All (businesses, citizens) should be made aware of the organized services available to the homeless. To the extent that these services are presently insufficient, advocates must relentlessly publicize that fact and insist on the public providing additional resources and more effective action by elected officials.

  10. I'm on the fence here, as well.

    You may not mind someone hanging around to cadge the remains of your lunch, but others do mind it. Could the guards have handled it better? Sure. But I have no problem with Farmers Market discouraging panhandlers.

    At the same time, it pains me to see anyone go hungry.

    A previous poster noted that handing out food and money, though well-meaning, only makes the panhandling problem continue. Better to support to the myriad organizations that provide food, shelter and assistance to the homeless.

    But as a practical matter, that doesn't solve your dilemma in the moment -- how to respond to someone needy enough to humble himself to beg for the scraps off your plate?

    I suppose I would have done exactly what you did, felt the same pity for the young man and the same outrage at the interference of the guards.

    But later on, I might have concluded it would have been better to quietly slip the guy a few bucks, or offer to buy him his own meal, rather than wage a public fight with meatheaded guards over the "right" to "feed the homeless" with the half-eaten remains of your lunch.

  11. I understand the dilemma about not wanting to have your lunch overrun with people panhandling, but if the man waited until the lunch was over, was polite about it, and didn't make any scene if someone declined, then I'm not sure what the big deal is. Someone had extra food, someone needed to eat. No one wants to be badgered, of course, but it doesn't sound like he was badgering anyone.

  12. There are better places for the homeless to get food, and better ways to charitably provide food to the homeless.

  13. There's got to be a line somewhere, and it's best that it be a clear, bright line. If you allow panhandlers to do their stuff if they are "polite" about it, "don't make a scene," and only do it after they perceive that customers are through eating, then you have one big, mushy, indefinite line. And of course, the rules have to be enforced by minimum wage security people that you can't send away for weeklong sensitivity training.

    Let's say you had such a system. Word gets around the homeless community. The numbers of loiterers build. The first to ask is the first to get. When is the "through eating" moment reached? Five homeless are watching you intently, every bite, every sip. They approach closer so that they can be the first to arrive when the "finished" moment is reached. Starting to get the picture? You have one really creepy dining experience. And business drops because of all the homeless hanging around watching you, trying to look "polite."

    Donna wants to pick and choose the odd, rare moment in her life when she can be the hero and give someone food, and then ignore them the rest of the time, and ignore the consequences she creates for others. She doesn't have to deal with the fallout of a looser system of rules. And she wouldn't be eating at Farmers Market in the first place if they'd had such rules all the time. She'd be creeped out like the rest of us at the resulting environment, but I'm sure she'd find some other reason on which to blame her lack of patronage, something that puts the responsibility on someone else.

  14. I have to agree. The line must be drawn somewhere. I, for one, don't want to have people begging everywhere I go - specially not while I'm eating.

    There are other ways to help the hungry without sacrificing our right to privacy.

  15. Just handing out food to strangers who cliam they're homeless or "in need" enables them encourages begging and makes it easier for them to exist on the streets. Better to donate to a legitimate nonprofit that works with the homeless to get them off the streets and self reliant. As for the Farmer's Market, they did the right thing. I don't want some possibly mentally ill, possible violent elon, parolee or other person of ill repute approaching me or my family when I'm out. It's matter of personal safety.

  16. You need proof that lots of people are heartless? Check the opposition--it's pervasive--to assisting illegal immigrants in any way, or to insuring that the poor, including children, have adequate health care. It goes way beyond antipathy toward the hungry and homeless.

  17. Gotta love people who remain on the fence. Are you able to take a stand on anything?

    The Market, like The Grove next door, is private property. It's a business. If homeless people hurt that business, and they do, the owner can have rules that protect that business. Channel your indignation to finding solutions for homelessness, rather than insisting that business owners respect your idea of social justice. Who the hell are you?

    Make some sandwiches, go to a local park where there are homeless people, and feed them.

  18. And what if this homeless person is mentally ill? And attacks another patron after being drawn to the property because security guards let them eat leftovers?

    Can the security guard smply pick and choose which panhandlers are a threat? Is he able to make such a decision? What if one panhandler is tolerated at the Market, and others discriminated against by being told to keep out?

    The property owner has to act to protect his customers. Allowing panhandlers would open up to being sued, and to lose in court..

    It's a big, sad, complicated world out there. Getting worse every day, what with the economy and everything.

    But that doesn;t

  19. Ms. Myrow,

    On behalf of Farmers Market, I wish to respond to your recent post about your encounter with a young man to whom you offered the remainder of your meal.

    First, we want you to know that your encounter with that young man was the last in a series of such incidents which took place over the course of the day you visited the Market. Earlier in the day, the young man had been discovered sleeping at the Market and, following a contentious conversation with our security staff, he was asked to leave the property. He did, only to return. After another encounter between him and our security staff, you became involved, kindly offering to provide the young man with food. Under other circumstances, that offer might have gone unnoticed and unremarked, but because of the previous encounters, our security staff – properly, in our view – acted to prevent further incidents.

    Like virtually every public/private space in Los Angeles, the Market tries to strike a balance between maintaining a welcoming atmosphere for all our visitors and addressing those in need. We are not a shelter nor a food bank and, however one may feel about the fact, we get a number of complaints from visitors who prefer not to be approached by total strangers seeking food, cash or other assistance. Indeed, as a matter of policy, we do not allow unauthorized solicitations of any kind at the Market for precisely that reason.

    We do our best to treat those less fortunate with kindness and courtesy at all times and, in other contexts, the Market and its merchants have been and continue to be generous supporters of local food banks, housing agencies and others who help address our city’s significant homeless issue.

    Our security officers acted in a context of which you could not have been aware and, while you may have reached a contrary conclusion based on that incident, we wish to assure you that the Market strives, every day, to deal with incidents of the kind you experienced with the utmost care and respect for all involved.

    We regret the distress this incident may have caused, but we hope you recognize the issues which underlie it are complex and challenging. We strive always to act compassionately, as you did on that day.

    -Mark Panatier, Vice President

  20. After reading all the responses I have to say I don't want to be out eating with my 2 yr old and have some homeless person asking me for food or cash. I'm on the other side of the country - near Baltimore....and I dunno how the homeless act on the West Coast, but out here on the East they aren't the type you wanna take pity on. You are liable to get raped and/or robbed by "helping" anyone that appears "in need", they see you have money they try and rob you, they see you gave someone some food they get aggressive about their begging or just steal I feel terrible about this but I won't even take my child into the city because I don't want to explain to him why grown men and women have to ask Mommy for money and why we can't feed them. Come holiday season, we donate to churches if we can. Let them take on the risk! I'm not putting my family in danger, and I can feel good about indirectly feeding the homeless.