Beverly Hills is known for its high-end shops, homes and fancy cars, but on Tuesday it was the homeless at the center of a debate where people are fighting to protect a homeless man they're used to seeing.
George Saville usually stays near Los Angeles' Skid Row, but he prefers to come to Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills for his panhandling.
That is until a series of encounters with the city's green-shirted ambassadors that has focused as much attention on the program as it has on Saville.
A chatty, daily visitor, Saville, 57, has become something of a test case for a program the city of Beverly Hills launched and outsourced to discourage "aggressive panhandling."
Glib and well-read, Saville liked to hang out near the Urth Caffe amid the row of restaurants on South Beverly Drive where he established a rapport with a wide range of regulars, discussing news and current events.
A number of people have come forward, contending the city's green-shirted "ambassadors" harassed Saville.
"Every day I would see several standing around George," said Marc Breindel, a web designer and caffe regular. "It was strange."
Top news of the day
The ambassadors stayed until Saville left, Breindel said.
Authorities allege during an encounter in February, Saville had an altercation with one of the ambassadors. Misdemeanor battery and threat charges were filed. The case has not gone to trial.
Urth regulars heard that a restraining order was issued, and Saville has not been back since.
"I maintain he's within the law," said David Lyle, a caffe regular who works in the entertainment industry and serves as president of the digital content trade group pactUS. "Why should he not be allowed to stay?"
Last year, to run the ambassador program, Beverly Hills contracted with Block by Block, a Louisville, KY based company which provides "safety, cleaning, hospitality and outreach services for downtown improvement districts," according to its website.
The company's regional VP did not respond to a request for comment.
In metropolitan Los Angeles, Block by Block also has contracts to provide services in West Hollywood, Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, and Pasadena's Old Town.
In the business, shopping and tourism core of Beverly Hills, the mission of the ambassadors is to "address aggressive panhandling and connect individuals with social service needs to the City’s Changing Lives and Sharing Places (CLASP) Homeless Outreach Team," according to the city's website.
Lyle contends Saville received no social services.
"They don't put them in homes," Lyle said. "They don't put them in hospitals. They just get them out of our neighborhood."
"Individuals such as Mr. Seville are very difficult to help because they have a source of support that keeps them fed, but does nothing to address the complex issues that lead to homelessness," reads a statement released by the city, spelling Saville's name differently.
Saville suffered head injuries during a fall, and required hospitalization, according to his sister Sylvia Saville Flaherty.
Traveling from Arizona to speak at a City Council meeting last month, she asked members to spare her brother the risk of going to jail. The council made no commitment, but at one point Vice Mayor Nancy Krasne asked Flaherty if she would take her brother back to Arizona with her.
"I can't be responsible for him," Flaherty replied. "He's a grown man."
At an April meeting of the city's human relations commission, James Latta, the agency's administrator, reported that "our homeless count went from 29 to 14 because of the Ambassador Team."
The issue flared with the publication of a front-page article in Tuesday's Los Angeles Times. City officials would not comment.
Saville's adult son Marlon said his father left the hospital last week and has withdrawn somewhat since then.
The episode has left his father feeling short of dignity and pride," Marlon Saville said.