They can be outright arrogant.
Some on foot ignore traffic signals and cross at will.
Others step off sidewalks and into traffic as if they are zombies.
Then there are those on bicycles who weave in and out of traffic.
And let’s not forget the junk they toss about town.
Yes, that has described the actions of some homeless. It also sounds like those druggies often described as meth heads who aren’t homeless. But it also describes the actions of more than a few tweens and teens not to mention some adults who should know better.
The homeless have not cornered the market on misdemeanor behavior on the streets. But they do get the brunt of the blame.
For every homeless who crosses a street against a red light seemingly dragging their feet, there are a dozens of teens walking on the way home from school oblivious to traffic as they step off curbs with earbuds blasting their playlist or their noses buried in smartphones.
So why do the homeless anger most of us more than others that commit similar offenses?
Perhaps it is because they look homeless and not like us, whatever that means.
There is likely a lot of truth in that given how you can observe people responding differently when “different” teens commit the same offenses. If a teen crosses the street without checking and is oblivious to traffic flow but is attired in typical teen garb with just a blank look on their faces, the blood pressure level is low.
But if a teen dressed in some outrageous fashion – assuming there is really such a thing today – with an accompanying attitude plastered across their face and body language that says “I’m in your face” many us start blowing smoke out of our ears.
More often than not we surmise the homeless – as well as seemingly arrogant teens who don’t fit today’s version of the “Leave It to Beaver” typical teen – are getting away with breaking any law that they want.
It is especially true in how many view law enforcement’s interaction with the homeless.
It is not a crime to be homeless but officers will respond accordingly to criminal acts that the homeless commit. That means things the homeless do to simply survive as well as their appearance is not going to get them hauled off to jail. Nor are they going to be specifically targeted for any misdemeanor transgressions any differently than anyone else.
There are those, however, who believe the homeless get a pass on crime from police. That is simply not the case.
The recent arrest of a transient who wanders from town to town for allegedly firing upon moving vehicles underscores that point. And the social media reactions to that arrest show how some of us simply have no perspective when it comes to the homeless.
The most egregious comments ranging from “it’s about time” to “the homeless are making living unsafe” ignores a wildly inconvenient fact.
Shooting randomly at moving vehicles is not all of that rare of occurrence. What is, though, is the responsible being homeless.
Law enforcement did not track down the perpetrator on the assumption they were homeless. They did so because a crime was committed.
People get irked when they see homeless hanging out. That can be sitting downtown with or without their belongings at a park, sitting on or near sidewalks or even walking down the street.
They should be treated no differently than teens, couples, adults, kids or however else is doing the same thing. Yes, they can look scroungy. And yes, there are anti-loitering laws.
But the laws apply to everyone. A group of teens hanging out at the park gazebo minding their own business during the day would not prompt people to call the police. Nor would a couple with backpacks sitting beside them on a grassy area along a public street. And certainly an elderly man sitting on a bench in the downtown area wouldn’t raise the hackles on the back of your neck as you pass by.
Yes, homeless are not good for a community. And there are definitely criminal elements among them just like there are in any other segments of the community whether they are working adults, teens, or owners of McMansions.
Do not misconstrue the point. This is not simply a live-and-let-live argument. While that certainly is the bottom line in terms of how we interact with people who are basically mostly keeping to their selves – without benefit of shelter for whatever reason they ended up on the streets – it does not mean that we accept it as inevitable.
The issue of people being homeless has been with us since the dawn of civilization when homo sapiens started leaving the wild behind them. And even as we rambled through the 20th century, transients – some called them hobos – were far from being rare.
It may be inevitable that there will be more homeless for whatever reason as population grows and we urbanize more, but that doesn’t mean we can’t tap down the degree that it is occurring.
It is why the pushback, if that is what you want to call it, where people view the homeless a revolting is a good thing. That’s because it forces leaders – elected and otherwise – as well as rest of us to seek solutions.
The homeless have been background noise for decades in Stanislaus County. At one point they were almost invisible just like they are in Ripon which had an official point in time homeless count of seven in 2019. The numbers are so low they manage to stay pretty much out of sight.
Rest assured that will change as Ripon grows as they can not escape the economy and societal realities or the legal reach of the Ninth District Court of Appeals.
The best shot any community has is to target efforts at helping people who can get off the street by connecting them with relatives and/or making them employable again as police working with Modesto Gospel Rescue Mission and other organizations have been doing but on a much more stepped up manner that a central and functional homeless navigation center would allow.
Such a center is also critical to address the hardcore homeless that have mental and substance abuse issues. That is a longer road and one that won’t necessarily reach a good destination.
There are those that are true “hobos” that eschew most trappings of civilization without getting in everyone else’s faces.
As for those who are either anti-social and simply don’t want to be civilized – just like criminals who have a roof over their heads – they are never going away. When they cross the line, law enforcement deals with them.
Leaders, to their credit, “say” they want to take an even more holistic approach and try to step up efforts to address housing affordability that’s key to preventing a portion of the population from becoming homeless for reasons other than substance abuse or making bad financial decisions.
Given homeless issues either are at the top or No. 2 on most residents’ list for things the city needs to address and affordable housing routinely makes the top five, the city clearly needs someone whose undivided attention is paid to making sure solutions for homeless and affordable housing concerns move forward.
This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or 209 Multimedia Corporation.