Customers entering a Ralphs in Chatsworth on Saturday were greeted by members of a Facebook page who held a Safe Shopping Day calling attention to panhandling and homelessness in the area.
“We’ve had a lot of concerns about the aggressive panhandling issue, the homeless using the entrance to Ralphs as a bathroom, and people have stopped shopping here and are going to other areas, which is bad for our community,” said Cher Bentley, 43, a Chatsworth resident who runs the Chatsworth Neighborhood Pride page. “Instead of people being scared and running off we thought we would come here and escort people who feel unsafe. We want people to shop in our community without being fearful.”
About 40 people attended the event, in front of the Ralphs on Devonshire Street in Chatsworth. The Facebook group members initially planned to escort shoppers to the supermarket and other stores, but conversations with customers ended up happening instead.
• RELATED STORY: Where do the homeless sleep? LA County now knows
Business owner Kristine McBride, 36, owns The Skin Within located in the Ralphs plaza and said she has noticed an increase of homeless people in the past three years.
“I don’t work here at night,” McBride said, adding sometimes her husband arrives to help protect the business.
Across the street from the Ralphs, at the Chatsworth Depot, a man named Archer was sleeping when he was awakened by some of the Facebook page members who were cleaning up the area.
He disagreed there was any kind of an issue at the Ralphs.
“I haven’t really seen anything,” Archer said. “There is no one really out to get anyone here. It’s only people who are hard on their luck and got jobs or whatnot but no roof over their head and they’re just out here on the streets. This is just a central spot that’s got shade and centralized where it takes them where they need to go. Anyone who doesn’t feel safe probably has never been anywhere near in need in their life and has no idea what it’s like.”
Archer, a 30-year-old from Alabama with the moniker J.T.R.A., said he is a musician who plays guitar, bass, piano, produce, sings, raps and DJ and has gigs lined up and another job, but doesn’t make enough to live in a residence.
While most people appeared receptive toward the group, Chatsworth resident Michael Heringman disagreed with their position: “You can’t blame them all,” he said.
Los Angeles Police Department Topanga Division Senior Lead Officer Sean Dinse arrived on Saturday afternoon to support the group.
“It’s about bringing the community together,” he said. “The homeless issue is not bad, per se, compared to the city of Los Angeles, to put it in perspective,” Dinse said. “The San Fernando Valley is relatively safe, but there’s a change in culture and a change in the environment the community is not used to … and when it’s something that hasn’t happened in the past and it feels like it’s happening all at once, it’s overwhelming. We keep on throwing this word homelessness around like this is the issue. But it’s drug addiction and mental illness and that’s the reason why they’re here today.”