A community activist thinks a few couch potatoes strategically placed on sidewalk benches in an upscale La Jolla, California shopping district will keep transients on their feet and on the move.
Esther Viti, who oversees the donation of public benches for a local merchants' association, sent an e-mail to 45 other activists last week asking them to sit in three-hour shifts, no bathroom breaks allowed.
"After all, you MUST OCCUPY THAT BENCH continually for three hours to prevent that homeless person from sitting on that bench," the e-mail said.
Viti said donors weren't happy that transients were sleeping on benches they had provided for the public.
The group initially tried to combat the problem by installing benches with metal dividers that split the seats.
Transients simply began sleeping upright, said Deborah Marengo, president of the merchants' group Promote La Jolla.
Viti said the bench-warming idea came from San Diego police Capt. Shelley Zimmerman during a conversation about how to combat the problem.
Zimmerman said she explained to Viti that homeless people have as much right to sit on public benches as anyone else.
Viti said no one has offered to sit a shift yet.
Some potential recruits expressed concern that the bench brigade could provoke retaliation from displaced transients.
Professionals who deal with homeless issues said Viti's strategy might succeed in getting people to move on, but would do nothing to address the underlying problem of homelessness.
"It's pointless and a waste of time," said Rosemary Johnston, program director for the Interfaith Shelter Network.