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Increase in Homeless Population in San Fernando Valley has ignited Marches

As the number of homeless people in the San Fernando Valley has grown, some residents say they’re fed up with criminal activity they claim is associated with those who ask for money at freeway off-ramps or live in tent encampments.

Some residents and others in the West Valley have decided to take action. They plan to march down Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills on Tuesday night to raise awareness about the “threat and impact that criminal transients have on our community,” according to a Facebook page for the event.

Meanwhile, an opposing march, called the March to Counter the Criminalization of Homelessness in West SFV, is planned for the same time and place. Those behind the second march accuse the organizers of the first march of targeting and mischaracterizing homeless people.

The first march, dubbed the March to Raise Awareness of Criminal Panhandling in the West SVF, will begin at 6 p.m. and travel from De Soto Avenue to Topanga Canyon Boulevard.

Panhandlers have become more aggressive, said march organizer Michael Murray, echoing social media posts that have cropped up in recent months. Panhandlers have been known to punch car windows or commit burglaries, Murray said.

Murray wrote in an online post that the idea for the march grew out of a desire for a “peaceful protest” against the inaction of city leaders and other local elected officials.

Murray said the march is to address “criminal panhandling” and does not target homeless people “who are truly in need and would take help that is offered.

Rather, his march aims to raise awareness and demand that city leaders and other elected officials do more to “move these addicted transients who are refusing help because they are making too much money off” such activities as panhandling, he said.

The march’s organizers have made protest signs with such messages as “Take back our town” and “Panhandling supports addiction” and are distributing them for a fee.

Murray and others have blamed panhandling and homeless issues on a lack of action by Los Angeles City Councilman Bob Blumenfied, who represents Woodland Hills and other West Valley neighborhoods.

Blumenfield said Wednesday he does not feel the march is aimed at him. He said he has been working for some time to address homelessness in his area.

On Thursday, the councilman posted pictures of himself with “no soliciting no loitering” signs on Facebook. He said he ordered the signs “several months ago” and is having them installed under freeway overpasses in his district.

“People are very frustrated in seeing the change and the rise in homelessness,” Blumenfield told the Daily News.

The anti-panhandling march has sparked an opposing event by those who say there are other ways to respond to the rise in homelessness.

The organizer of the countermarch is Laura Rathbone, an activist who supports opening more shelters and programs that direct the homeless into permanent housing. She said there is no clear distinction between a homeless person considered a criminal transient and one who isn’t. She said she hopes a dialogue between marchers could change a few minds.

Many homeless people turn to drugs because of trauma resulting from “something horrendous that happened to them,” she said.

“When I see what these protesters are doing, I think, so they actually think these people are going to be drug-addicted and homeless for the rest of their lives?” Rathbone said. “What they should be doing is offering help instead of complaining about this.”

Corinne Ho, president of the Canoga Park Neighborhood Council, said she plans to take part in the anti-panhandling march to help raise awareness about panhandling. Ho said that as council president she has been dealing primarily with problems associated with the recent increase in people living out of motor homes in her area.

“I totally understand both sides of it, and I think it’s a healthy conversation to have,” Ho said of the countermarch.

She added that the effect of homelessness on the business community has been underappreciated.

“I do think in my heart it’s time the city steps up to help the business community,” she said.

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