On the street where I currently live is private, religious homeless relief agency that works out of a large house. The majority of the homeless come in the afternoon for food, clothes and sermons. By the evenings they’re gone, staying in the homeless shelters across town. Now and then, however, some assume that anything in this neighborhood will be tolerated because of the shelter’s charity. They’ll try to squat in nearby empty houses, or they’ll take to following people in the neighborhood out walking their dogs. They’ll ask for change, for a light, and grow increasingly aggressive if they’re ignored or even if they’re not ignored. More than once my neighbors and I have had to ask the police to increase patrols or run off squatters.
Several months ago a homeless guy actually stood outside my home, ranting that he was going to burn all our houses down because he felt disrespected. Another homeless guy stole the American flag I was flying from my porch because he thought he could sell it. A couple of weeks ago I had to call the cops when a homeless guy and his girlfriend were squatting in an abandoned house.
Currently a typical homeless scenario is growing. Two homeless guys were spotted walking down our street late last night. It’s a free country, of course, and simply walking down a street is constitutionally protected. But today I spotted the same guys squatting in that abandoned house on the corner. And tonight a neighbor approached me saying he’d been harassed earlier in the day by two homeless guys. The description he gave matched exactly the two guys I’ve been seeing around: white guys, one tall, one short.
Fortunately, my neighbors and I know not to ignore growing problems. He called the police to report the problem. I contacted the landlord of the abandoned property and told him about the squatters. He went to check it out, but I’m skeptical that they’ll stay out even if he managed to kick them out tonight. The best thing that can happen if they stick around is that the police will pick them up for trespassing.
I’m a strong advocate for the right to be homeless and the right to panhandle. But I’m also a strong advocate for the right to be safe from aggressive, mentally ill men. I don’t confuse the two, and I know they don’t contradict each other. People are created to be free, but not free to infringe on the rights of others.