Tuesday, December 13, 2011


He wants change.

If you're anything like me, you have probably noticed the upswing in homeless people standing outside your local 7-Eleven begging for change.  We can assume this is because of the dragging economy and the overall lack of available jobs, but statistics paint a more complex story.

When I looked up LAHSA's (Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority)  2011 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count Report I was surprised to discover that LA County's homeless rate had actually gone down 9% from 52,931 in 2009 to 51,340 in 2011. 

What's more interesting is that in 2005, the homeless count in LA County was 82,291.  That's a drop of approximately 37% over the last six years.    

So where are these new homeless people coming from?  I guess that depends on what you call "new."  Something I have noticed about the new wave of homeless panhandlers out in front of my 7-Eleven is that they look battle worn.  They've been on the street for a long time.  They've probably migrated from other locations in the city where donations have dried up.

With the economy on the ropes, people are probably giving less, so beggars muscle their way into the West Hollywood and Beverly Hills area where there is more disposable cash.  This new group is more aggressive and exude a more palpable air of danger.  I imagine the homeless people I have grown accustomed to over the last ten years were pushed out by this new wave.  Maybe they finally succumbed to the harsh life of the Los Angeles streets, but you never know.

We already know a large percentage of the homeless are people suffering from mental illness, substance abuse problems, physical disabillities -- or sadly --  a combination of all three.  I call this person --  the triple threat -- and that's precisely who is hitting you up when you go to 7-Eleven to buy a Big Gulp.

The Triple Threat


The rules for dealing with the homeless outside your 7-Eleven are as vast and wide as the problem of homelessness itself.  Here are a few ways people deal with the 7-Eleven "triple threat."


I think everyone has used this technique at one time or another.  It's simple.  This is where you walk past the homeless person and when they call out your name, you simply act as if you didn't hear them.  Even as they are cursing your name on the way out, you still act as though they don't even exist.


This is where you are finished shopping for your pack of cigarettes or your Big Gulp, but you loiter in the store reading magazines in hopes that the homeless person will move on.  The percentages do not work in your favor with this tactic, but if it didn't work, people wouldn't do it.


This tactic is actually pretty successful.  This is where you get out of your car and do your best to exude a complete aura of anger, frustration and dissatisfaction with life.   It says, "Please do not even look at me or I will annihilate you with my rage vision."  It works, but this also can affect anyone else you come in contact with.


I've never tried this one, but I've been told it's effective.  This is where you park in front of the store, but don't get out and you let the car's exhaust become intolerable for anyone waiting around outside.  I suppose it works best if you have an old car in need of a smog check, but I think this tactic tips over into the area of cruel and unusual.


This is the most straight up way.  It's where you simply shake your head no, but offer no eye contact or verbal answer.  It usually results in a vigorous "God Bless You!"  This usually will excuse you from getting hassled on the way out, but you never can tell.
I'll buy a burrito wit'it.
 Keep in mind, I'm not suggesting you do any of these things.  Some days I give, some days I don't.  I think we make an assumption that if you are hit up by the same person every day you are essentially funding their lifestyle.  You know you can't/won't give all the time so the expectation from homeless people breeds a special kind of contempt that I think is poisonous to your psyche.

We're from Portland!


There are just as many rules for giving.  Everybody has a standard that the person must meet before they give money.  Others want a full accounting of where every last cent will be spent along with receipts or proof to go along with it.  It has been my experience that the best thing to do if you decide to give is to forget about it.  Let that money go entirely.  It's not your job to decide what they spend it on.  If you don't like what they might do with it, then See Disengagement rules above.  It's not a judgment.

Here are some of the guidelines I have either used or seen used by others.


I know of some people, mostly women, that will give specifically to homeless women they see on the street because they imagine themselves having to struggle like that and the idea of a woman having to brave the streets alone is horrifying.


I fall into this category in the summer time.  Sometimes -- even unsolicited --  I will buy a homeless person a large bottle of water so they can stay hydrated while stuck out in the sun all day.  Even if a drunk or a drug addict needs a fix, I've never seen anyone turn down a bottle of cold water on a hot day.


This is interesting.  This is when you have already passed the homeless person and they call out a specific request to you as you pass through the door.  It brings to mind a cold morning in April when a man called out to me.  "Hey, bring me out an egg salad sandwich."  I did, he ate it and that was that.


This is where you glad-hand the homeless person after giving them money.  You ask them how they are doing.  If they've been surviving.  Usually these are questions you are secretly curious about, but you don't actually care.  It's all a ruse to make them feel more human and to give others walking by the sense that you probably volunteer your time at a shelter.


This is a person that gives larger bills to homeless people.  Fives, tens and twenties.  You enjoy hearing how grateful the person is, but act as though you don't want the praise.  You don't hang around making small talk, however, as this would make the gesture seem less authentic.

So, there you have it.  Maybe this list resonated with you a little.  Maybe a lot.  Maybe you're offended.  Either way, the 7-Eleven triple threat is here to stay. 

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