Two competing groups of protesters marched down Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills on Tuesday evening, with one group voicing its concerns about panhandling, and the other calling for more tolerance of the growing homeless population in the west San Fernando Valley.
One set of marchers, numbering about 30 people, held signs that read “take back our town” and insisted that panhandlers have become too aggressive. Many said the homeless denizens bring with them substance abuse issues that have made the area less safe.
Dina Discola, 52, who lives nearby, complained that she frequently finds human waste and evidence of drug use in her neighborhood.
“No one’s anti-homeless here,” Discola said, as she marched near a Whole Foods and Porsche dealership. She said that recently “someone dropped a bag of urine, it obviously came out of a catheter … and yesterday, we found another syringe laying on the street. I had to kick it under the curb.”
But participants in the opposing group, which also had about 30 people, said the first contingent of protesters was painting the homeless community with a broad brush.
“It’s a reality, and instead of just wanting to put them in jail … they should be working toward solutions,” said Karen Wescott, 70, of North Hills. “Putting people in jail is not the solution.”
Wescott added that they have “the same situation in North Hills.”
She said once you get to know the stories of the homeless in the area, many will find that “everyone’s people. You stop and talk and you find out someone’s story. You learn something. You grow as a person.”
The anti-panhandling marchers did not get very far before they elicited a strong reaction from a passer-by, who described himself as homeless.
Keven Latham, 27, told reporters he frequently panhandles at nearby freeway off-ramps to buy food.
“I beg for money every day and I don’t do drugs — you guys are a bunch of f—— creeps,” Latham shouted at the protesters, before throwing several air punches toward one marcher.
Latham was later stopped by a Los Angeles Police Department officer and placed in handcuffs.
Robert Kesler, 52, of Tarzana, pointed to Latham’s actions, saying it was an example of the “attitude” that residents in the area have been dealing with.
“People think they’re doing a good thing by handing a dollar to transients begging, but they take that to get their next fix,” Kesler said.
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The Tarzana resident said he does not trust that Latham and others are begging for money to buy food, and thinks it may be to purchase drugs, saying “who knows.”
Meanwhile Discola, who was walking with Kesler, added, “we just want a safe community that’s all.”
She said she has lived in the West Valley for 14 years and has seen the area change.
“The longest I’ve ever lived anywhere,” she explained. “And now I’m scared.”