FAQ About Homelessness

February 12, 2018
by Erika Aklufi

FAQ About Homelessness

The City often receives questions related to homelessness. Here are answers to your most frequently asked questions:

Question: What's the best way to help homeless people?

Answer: Make a donation or volunteer with a local homeless service provider. You can also engage in charitable activities through your work, school, church or other organization. See page 4 of our February Seascape Edition on Homelessness, where we spotlight three local organizations. For a full list, visit smgov.net/homelessness.

Q: Is pandhandling legal?

A: Panhandling itself is not illegal. The Supreme Court has ruled that the First Amendment generally protects the right of one person to ask another for money in a public space. However, the right is not without limits. It is unlawful for any person to harass, menace, threaten, assault, or commit fraud against another person in connection with a request for money.

Q: What should I do when solicited for money?

A: It’s up to you! Although there is no law that says one person cannot ask another for money in a public space, the City encourages you to direct them to a local service provider instead. There are plenty of resources that offer food, shelter, and additional assistance to those in need throughout Santa Monica. Regardless of whether or not you choose to donate, feel free to acknowledge a panhandler with a nod or a “hello,” and when asked for money, you can politely decline or donate something the homeless individual can actually use, such as small-sized toiletries, socks, or food. While in a vehicle, safety is a big priority! We recommend you do not roll down your window or engage in conversation with those standing on the side of the road. It’s unsafe to have people standing on the median and walking through traffic.

Q: Why can't homeless people be removed from public places?

A: People experiencing homelessness have the same rights as anyone else to be in a public place. What tends to be forgotten by many is that most of our homeless population do not want to be living in public spaces. Over time, the Santa Monica Police Department and the City’s social service partners have come to understand that working with homeless people is the best way to get and keep them off the streets. The government has little power to “force” a homeless person to get help from a shelter or seek housing assistance. However, if our outreach teams can figure out what works for each individual by getting to know them, we can create better long-term outcomes. The City has made a commitment to invest the time to provide compassionate outreach to this extremely vulnerable population.

Q: There has been an increase in both crime and homelessness in the past year. Is there a correlation between the two?

A: Just because you are homeless does not mean you are a criminal. There is homelessness and there is lawlessness. These are two entirely different things.

Q: Are there any resources available to business owners, apartment managers and residents ind ealing with violent or anti-social behavior from homeless individuals?

A: If you see violent behavior or feel threatened, please call 911. If you are talking about ongoing anti-social behavior, there are things you can do. Have an open line of communication with your neighbors, fellow business owners or property owners. Share information with one another and Santa Monica Police Department officers — what time of day are these incidents happening and who is involved. Officers can come out and speak with these people who are creating the problems, and find out if they are doing something criminal, or if they are in need of some help and direction. There is a Neighborhood Resource Officer and a Crime Prevention Coordinator from the Santa Monica Police Department assigned to every area of our City. The goal of the Community Affairs team is to quickly identify community issues, concerns, problems and crime trends which have long-term quality of life issues. These staff are trained professionals and can connect you to local resources. There is new funding to help provide training to the community on best practices for interacting with people who are homeless. There is also training on what to do prior to police getting involved to keep themselves and the area safe. More information on training opportunities will be coming soon. In addition, continue to cooperate with law enforcement by ensuring no trespassing letters are on file and when applicable, no sleeping or lying signage is posted in doorways.

Q: If I feel unsafe, what steps are recommended?

A: It’s always important to follow your gut. If you feel unsafe when walking towards a person who is approaching strangers aggressively or acting unpredictably, cross the street at a marked crossing or remove yourself from the area.

If you need additional support, please contact us. 

Emergency | 911

Public Safety Dispatch (non-emergency) | 310.458.8491

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