Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wild Wild West

Last Wednesday I was warned by a resident of the Maginot Line kitty-corner to me that someone had been seen in the neighborhood going through belongings left behind by some of his neighbors during the day, and was also "messing with people" during the night. I didn't ask what was meant by "messing with", but I found out Easter Sunday. At around 4:30 AM that morning I was woken up by a beam from a flashlight flickering across my face, and when I peeked out from around the corner of my shelter I saw a shadowy figure scurrying away from my spot. I was perturbed but remained nonetheless because relocating would have been a pain and probably have prevented me from getting back to sleep before dawn. Half an hour later he reappeared, this time sneaking around from behind me! Again I was startled awake by his flashlight; this time I peered out and stared at the guy, whereupon he muttered some balderdash about how I may "lose something", pointing at my backpack I was using as a pillow but trying to play it off like he meant the shopping cart I'd wheeled there the night before in preparation for the morning's marathon canning run I'd planned. I feigned ignorance of his larcenous intentions and patted the shopping cart by my head and asked him "What, this thing?", to which he answered yes and asked if it was mine. I responded in the affirmative, after which he wandered off. Goddamn CREEPY!

I was far beyond perturbed by now and couldn't go back to sleep. I've never been good at fighting and I don't possess the killer instinct that makes someone a quick and brutally effective study in the martial arts; I can't even bring myself to beat an assailant or burglar with a makeshift weapon when the need to arises! This inexplicable Buddhist-seeming aversion to violence (or is it just simple cowardice?) is a liability for a homeless man and one I'm deeply ashamed of; I feel like I'm only half a man and a painted target of opportunity. I was lucky the guy wasn't so thuggish as to simply attack me the moment he saw me wake up! In panic I decided to move to another spot, but I was thwarted by a dearth of sensible overnight camping spots in the area; I ended up spending a fitful night's sleep beneath a transformer mounted on a freeway pylon a few blocks away. After complaining the next evening about my unwelcome visitor to the same bumsteader who tipped me off to the Midnight Creeper, one of his neighbors showed up and assured me that he beat the hell out of the guy when he caught him rooting through his stuff and the ghoul was hauled off by the cops because he had some warrants out for him. As we were speaking the three of us watched a complete stranger suddenly attack two neighbors already bedded down around the corner from the Maginot Line! He ended up with a face full of mace, running down the street screaming.

Two incidents within twenty-four hours, and it's not even May! This is the kind of bad homeless behavior I expect to occur in July, not BEFORE the rains have relented and the tourist season drives the more unsavory street folk out of downtown. I'm going to get some damn bear mace before the end of May, if I manage to make enough money to; I just ask that anyone who wishes to ruin my day attempt to do so downwind from me. I could move, of course, but my shelter apparatus is limited in how and where it can be erected; once I get a small tent I'll have more time to scout a location farther out from downtown and have many more options available to me than I would with my current set-up. This will take some time, however, so until then I'll just have to cross my fingers by day and sleep with one eye open by night.

I don't think there's anything the homeless fear more than being robbed and/or assaulted while asleep. It's pretty much accepted by each of us that at some point or another our belongings will get destroyed or lost or stolen; you just never know what will happen — you can get drunk one night and leave your sleeping bag at the library, or the cops may roll up on your camp and confiscate your shelter and it ends up "lost" when you go to recover it, someone may wander by in the middle of the night and steal your backpack from you (like almost happened to me!), and then of course there's the simple matter of wear and tear due to heavy use and constant exposure to the elements. You're vulnerable when you're asleep, and because no one wants street people around we often find ourselves roosting in places that are more dangerous and less patrolled by the police than neighborhoods where "respectable" people dwell comfortably and with some security indoors — not that the police are of any help to us; most of them are either indifferent or hostile to us, perfectly content with us eking out an urban Lord of Flies existence so long as we don't offend or frighten our betters. I've seen a police officer kick homeless people in the head with steel-toe boots to wake them up and snarl at them to get the hell out of there; we fear them second only to our peers, and for good reason.

And, unfortunately, incidents such as what occurred to me Sunday morning are bound only to increase in frequency and severity: the rising cost of living surpasses the wages required to meet it, forcing more and more working-class people out of their homes; gentrification pushes us out of formerly hospitable enclaves and encourages aggressive eviction tactics by the police; the swelling ranks of the homeless taxes steadily further our abundant but limited social services and charity resources, meaning increased competition; and Oregon is a haven for dangerous criminals and predators due to its liberal laws, lax reporting requirements, limited jail space, and bounty hunters being prohibited. Our formerly peaceful, tolerated, and abundantly provided for homeless population is turning into a Dog Eat Dog World, to the point where anyone not in housing will be living precarious and perilous lives similar to those suffered by street people right now in cities like Las Vegas and Miami.

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