“Walkers” are a chronic problem in downtown Redding, according to a woman I overheard complaining about them to a barista today and bragging about how pleased she was to have moved out to hobby ranch country off Airport Road. She seemed to be complaining about the cold homeless, not pedestrians in general (who are rarely very numerous in Redding), although I couldn’t tell for sure. Her style of speech struck me as coy, euphemistic, even a bit shady.
This woman complained that the “walkers” were dangerous. God help us. It’s the bourgeois regime of feels again. There are genuinely menacing or dangerous homeless, but they’re honestly pretty rare in most homeless communities that I’ve noticed, including Redding’s. I doubt I’m big or badass enough to scare off belligerent street people who routinely prey on women or smaller, weaker men. For that matter, I have been menaced by the cold homeless on occasion, and the Samuel L. Jackson-looking punk who got up in my face in Inglewood didn’t come anywhere close to being the most menacing bum who has bothered me. The worst I’ve encountered by far was an Ed Hardy-acting white guy in Huntington Beach who cornered me in a bus shelter and threw punches at me because I curtly refused to give him any money and then got belligerent with a group of tourists after I frantically warned them about him.
That dude was dangerous, dangerous enough that I asked a couple of lifeguards to call the police. He was also, in my experience, extremely rare. In every other instance I can recall when a bum has gotten aggressive with me, I’ve quickly realized in retrospect that he was nothing worse than an annoying punk or loudmouth.
This is an important distinction to make. There’s a difference between living in a dangerous neighborhood and having some neighbors who are annoyingly poor. If the homeless are assaulting, battering, mugging, raping, or murdering their neighbors, the troublemakers in question need to be caught and arrested. They’re serious threats. If the homeless are frequently burgling vehicles or residential buildings, they’re disruptive enough to merit a police response, although they may not be threats to public safety per se, and if their threat is limited to property, they should not be accused of threatening anyone’s physical safety. If the homeless are chronically shoplifting or bothering customers at businesses in their neighborhood, they cause a nuisance that should be addressed, although if their crimes are so restrained, it’s almost a certainty that they’re driven to criminality by true desperation. If they’re defecating in the open, as is common in some encampments in Los Angeles County, that’s frankly an infrastructure and social services problem, full stop.
One of the things that bothers the hell out of me about the political response to homelessness in most of the United States is that the nuances of disruptive behavior by the homeless are viciously elided into a nondescript mass of threats, usually wildly exaggerated, to their neighbors. That is, the dirty bums won’t stop endangering the life, limb, curtilage, and Christian womanhood of the normal, decent, hardworking people whose neighborhoods they infest. To repeat, I have rarely encountered homeless people who posed any imminent threat to their neighbors in general. I’ve seen some fucking crazy bums, and I’m friends of a sort with two of them. I’m streetsmart enough to function adequately in some moderately rough neighborhoods. I’m not naive enough to think that there aren’t rough motherfuckers out on the streets who might do me harm if given a chance, but by the same measure I’m alert enough to tell when I’m dealing with someone who is merely trashy, sketchy, obnoxious, lost in his own world of the mind, disheveled, ground down by life, or otherwise not a threat. Constant false positives for the threatening poor are exhausting, and they can be disastrous. They help explain why American police are so homicidal.
The combination of bourgeois discomfort, ostracism of the homeless from housed society, self-righteousness, and paranoia resulted in the police murders of Kelly Thomas and James Boyd. That’s the endgame. Ramos and Cicinelli are as innocent as OJ. I’m not retributive enough to demand that they be punished as murderers: we desperately need more mercy and less justice in this country, and if the mercy they were shown doesn’t get anyone else killed, I’ll be fine with it; but they dindu nuffin but murder a man, in a leisurely enough fashion for Ramos to don latex gloves first. See these? They’ll fuck you up. Throw the evidence in the curbside trash and catch the redeye to Chicago. If you did it, that is. Say, how’s that murder sentence–I mean, armed robbery sentence–treating you? Nice dry change there in the desert, innit?
Being uncomfortable with someone isn’t the same as being threatened. Unpleasantness isn’t mortal terror. It shouldn’t be, anyway. In practice, God only knows where the line is between a Genovese/Steinle hellscape and property values not being what they might be. Listening to aggrieved neighbors isn’t necessarily enough to learn whether the neighborhood is turning into an Enoch Powell river of blood or has a few harmless down-and-outers wandering around because they’ve been given nowhere else to go. We create this problem by refusing to provide for these unfortunate losers, or by making it impossible for them to provide for themselves, and then we’re too precious and cheap to do anything to resolve it. Individually and institutionally, we do nothing for them. We don’t lift a finger. Those who do are exceptions that prove the rule. As a nation, we’re damned by our own deeds and omissions.
Redding seems like a particularly bad place to be cold homeless on account of its climate and built environment. I’ve heard that the police are generally quite decent to the homeless here, but even if they’re downright kind and helpful, the street people here are still forced to deal with torrential rain in the winters and summer weather so hot and sunny that it’s noticeably uncomfortable to drive on unshaded streets in an air-conditioned car. As with shitty parts of Philadelphia and Reno, there are neighborhoods here so bleak and badly built that they have to be bodily experienced to be believed. You, too, would probably turn into Oscar the Grouch after a day hoofing it on Cypress. There are people here who must, like Mixups in my Mind, shower very seldom. They have nowhere to go. I’ve seen low-end weekly motels around here that look worse than a well-run homeless encampment under the supervision of an amateur sheriff who keeps the residents from getting out of control. Staying at these places would absolutely, positively be worse than sleeping at the average rest area. I can tell at a glance. I’ve made the mistake of staying at similar places before, including one in Buena Park that was shut down by the city as a chronic nuisance a few months later. They’re several circles of hell lower than the worst experiences I’ve had a Crossland properties, and that’s being charitable.
I don’t usually enjoy interacting with hitchhiking riffraff or sign-flyers myself. Tough titty, though. My discomfort or embarrassment before them is a function of their living in physical and socioeconomic conditions that would cause anyone extreme hardship. They live like that for weeks, months, or years on end, sometimes with no end in sight. Maybe social services agencies can start buying them Greyhound tickets to Salt Lake City instead of San Francisco now that Agnostic’s beloved cucked-out Mormons (actually a slight gentile majority within the city limits, as it happens) are seriously scaling up housing first. It’s pretty damned assholy to blame the destitute for making one fleetingly uncomfortable in one’s own bourgeois security by being visibly destitute.
Richard Sherman has said that he was practically babysat by bums from the neighborhood when he was growing up in South LA. He seems like he was raised right. He also seems awfully decent and humble for this country, what with his trying not to use his success as a cudgel, the better to pulp those who remain failures.
The poor we will have with us always. We’ll have them extra longtime if we leave them at the mercy of an overwhelmed outfit like Loaves and Fishes while dumping half a billion down a hole for a new ballerdrome instead of getting them into apartments. If housing first is cuckoldry, please, do show me how to prep my wife’s bull. Or have your wife share her Jello salad with me, if you know what I mean. What I mean, specifically, is that she should be sure to put some pineapple in it and hold the mandarin oranges.
Put that liger on the next train west, Napoleon. We need it.