Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The "Homeless Problem" in Downtown

This topic has really been on my mind a lot recently. Time and time again I hear and read people always saying "Oh I am so sick of always being hit up for change by homeless in downtown"

Am I the only one that it isn't as much of a nuisance as it is to some people? I mean, some people act and talk like they are chased for blocks and blocks scared for their lives from someone asking for change.

I have never, and I repeat NEVER been hassled by a homeless person outside of the following conversation:

Homeless Person "some spare change?"
Me: "Sorry"
....and I keep walking

End of conversation and interaction. It's really just become a reflex action to take a split second say sorry and carry on with my day. Yeah, it can be annoying at times, but so can those people at suburban strip mall asking for your signature on everything imaginable or someone asking you to donate what ever the cause of the day is...I simply say sorry 99% of the time, and carry on with my day.

I have never had anyone give me lip when I say no, anyone follow me, or feel like my life was in danger...and I am a 5"7' white guy. If they are going to mess with someone, they are going to mess with me.

I can spend hours in downtown and it might happen once or twice in an hour or two period, most of the time never. I really don't get it when people talk like they are being lynched by homeless people.

Also, I hope people realize that downtown area does not only encompass K Street Mall, which I think most people only consider downtown, and the immediate surrounding areas. I live around the Fremont Park neighborhood a handful of blocks outside of the central business district and I have NEVER been hit up by a panhandler around my house in the year and half I have lived there, and I have walked from bars and restaurants 10-15 blocks away at all hours of the day from morning time, afternoon, early evening, to 3 at night.

Yes, there are homeless in downtown, ALL cities have homeless in downtown areas. In fact, I think the ones in Sacramento are tame compared to other cities I have been to. The ones I and others I know have encountered in NY and SF will literally follow you yelling profanities at you on a rare occasion. Once again, I have never had this happen to me in Sacramento.

Now, until there are more people in the central business district area, this "problem" will always be there. If you are the only one walking on a block with 3 homeless people there, I can see how some people would be scared, but if you have 50 people walking on that block with the same 3 homeless people, they blend right in barely noticed.

If you go to the 18th and Capitol Ave area in the evening, I have seen a handful of homeless people around there from time to time, but they mix right in since the streets are filled with people going to and from the establishments in the area.

The other example I always use, and "Jetrock" touched on it in the comments section of the historic buildings post, is Union Square in San Francisco. There are lots of homeless people in and around Union Square with lots of SROs in the area as well, but since there are lots of other people in the area walking the streets, you barely notice them unless you trip over them.

Downtown suffers from an image problem that stems directly from K Street Malls run down nature, and nfortunately all the other downtown areas images suffer because of it. That's why the K Street projects are the most important in my mind. Once the baorded up store fronts go away and new retail establishment bring people into the area in a year or two, I think you will hear people's opinions of downtown as a whole change.

Give me your worst homeless person experience in downtown....


Uneasy Rhetoric said...

My worst homeless experience downtown jives with yours, except I usually get the ones who feel compelled to tell a story.

I did have a guy walk with me for a block in midtown to tell me his story, and this was *after* I'd given him some money. I would have been concerned except that I was on J Street in broad daylight right after work.

In any case, I think it comes with the territory. Maybe it's because I grew up in the area, but the homeless/panhandlers just don't bother me, unless its the kids from Carmichael trying to be cool by slumming. But you have those everywhere too.

Maya said...

I have been seriously mistreated by some homeless people, and still I don't begrudge them much. Usually the ones who are really rude and/or violent are addicts.

Maybe it's because I'm black, or maybe it's because I'm female (or maybe it's both), but homeless people tend to harrass me more if I don't give them money.

Just something to consider.

Anonymous said...

As a 24-year resident in and near the central city area, I can state from experience that we have nothing to fear from the overwhelming majority of homeless persons. Many have become an established part of the neighborhood. If you hang around downtown and mid-town long enough, you begin to recognize the regulars.

Jetrock said...

The thing about K Street is that the city looks to big projects to save the city but doesn't consider small projects to be worthwhile. So, very often, the Big Project that is supposed to save the day ends up wiping out existing businesses, thus creating new holes in K Street. If they would just calm down and stop building and rebuilding and re-rebuilding on K Street for a while and just concentrated on renting out retail space, there wouldn't be boarded up windows. It's almost a matter of a choice between occupied scruffy buildings and boarded-up vacant buildings. The 700-800 K project has killed or will kick out Joe Sun, Records on K, the comic shop, the watch repair place, Sub-Q, Bonehead, the videogame store, Texas Mexican, Junta, the men's clothiers, and the other mexican restaurant on the block. People keep referring to that block as "boarded up and abandoned" when the only vacant storefront is the old Tower storefront--one that will be a damn shame to lose.

One point to bring up: lots of the folks on K Street aren't homeless, they live in the SROs. People assume they're homeless because they look funky and ask for change.

jason said...

I live in Midtown. Just last week, a homeless couple knocked on our door and asked for some food in exchange for sweeping some leaves. We gave them food but didn't pursue the sweeping. It took about five minutes for me to assemble transportable food and they stood on the porch with my wife, 7-year old and 18 month old talking. I've heard people tell me not to do this because it will become pervasive, but for the two years we've been here, I haven't found that to be true (its happened three times and we always gave something).

Its a personal choice though and people shouldn't be "guilted" (or "harrassed") into choosing otherwise.

That said, I've yet to be harrassed for saying "No" which I do quite often when out and about.

And for all those who have listened to the stories, I commend you. Telling our story is part of how we express our humanness. To have a story is to have something when you have very little.

Anonymous said...

I agree anonymous , i recognize the homeless here all the time . I hardly ever go past Broadway / Alhambra .

I worked in the major hotels for years downtown and had a fair amount of time kicking some of em out of the lobby or bar for panhandling in the / @ the bar.

but ultimately i agree that they are not much more than a nuisance askin for change for the most part .

Although I must say homeless or not , if im eatin out on a patio or sidewalk with my girl its rude as hell to ask me for anything !

LivingInUrbanSac said...

Jetrock - You are right. While there are some, I shouldn't refer to all of the 700 and 800 block as "boarded" up, but you have to admit it's a less than desirable place for the average person, with no real reason for most people to go there. What is there currently isn't what K Street Mall, which could/should/is the heart of the city, should be least in my mind.

While the stores you mentioned are draws for some people, they simply do not have the large appeal that major retailers do amd people would love to shop at.

Most people do not want to see K Street become all national retailers, but in the short term they bring lots of people into the area that boasts the general economy of the area, that in the longer run helps smaller business as well, even if rent is a more.

There have been a few small projects that have helped K Street in the last few years, but there still needs to be a larger draw for K Street to be successful in my mind. Right now, it just isn't there.

I really feel small infill projects is the way to go in other parts of the city, but K Street Mall (and J Street for that matter) to me is a whole different situation. You need to change the overall imagine of it.

I don't think simply trying to rent out the retail space would work. Major retailer won't come to that area unless there are other there as well. While I think the Zieden project has some less than attractive parts, him being able to attract many of these retailers is quite an accomplishment in my mind, esp for that area.

While the K Street proposals do displace some businesses, I don't see any new holes that it will create, in fact I think it closes the holes that are currently there and is really what K Street has needed for a long time. Those business have a local following, people will find them even if they are in basement or 2nd floor of a building. I really hope they decide to stay on K Street.

Downtown as a whole needs to be more than a destination for people, it needs to be home to people, but K Street is that one street that in my mind I want and think should be a destination for everyone in the region.

The big projects on K Street you talk about have laid goose eggs for the city for decades now (ie CineArt idea for 10th and K), but I think this time they are on the right track. Esp with live theatre at 10th and K, assuming it happens. Apperantly, they are looking to include a multi screen as well. (might be back in front of the council next week)

I'm pretty sure we will find out in a relative short time how K Street will shape up with the current ideas out there.

Anonymous said...

i never had a bad experience with bums. honestly i can't remember seeing a bum downtown that wasn't on k street. sometimes i don't even look at them when they talk to me, and they don't get crazy. very calm bums in Sac...thank God!

Anonymous said...

I've had a homeless individual jump out from behind the Office Max on J and (in a rambling manner) demand food. He ultimately was harmless, but he spooked me and my wife.

The problem with the homeless is not that they ever do anything beyond "spare any change?" It's that they are there in the first place. Simply put, people generally don't like them around. We know that years of deinstitutionalization have placed mentally ill individuals on the street, and they may behave erratically or in a verbally abusive manner. (If you've been in Midtown, you've seen people doing this- swearing and yelling at cars). While the person with the psychosis might not attack you- it might be scary.

Also, homeless people are challenging - for one, they make us remember that we get to go home to plenty. And since many of us feel that we are decent people, we don't like to be challenged; saying "no" feels bad, and we don't like to say it to someone, particularly someone in need. (For more on feeling icky about saying "no", see "Success in Telemarketing").

As a denizen of Midtown, I file this under "nuisance" and I think that suburbanite fears of the homeless are part of their general inertness, but I understand the uneasiness.

sumokid said...

This didn't happen to me, after getting off the light rail on K Street on a Saturday afternoon, I saw a homeless guy grab some money out of some guys hand. The guy ended up putting the homeless guy in a headlock and getting his money back.

When I lived by Blue Diamond, most of the homeless people we'd see were regulars in the area and they were all friendly. I know its kinda selfish, but I have always thought of the homeless as a free security patrol since people are less likely to break into cars, etc. with people walking around.

I know people absolutely frightened by homeless people, and it scares me that they vote.

Megan said...

I regularly get asked out by homeless men here in Sac, but I just say no, thank you. It's never been a problem.

Anonymous said...


Wait a minute. You witnessed an theft and then an assault, and then say "I know people absolutely frightened by homeless people, and it scares me that they vote."

Don't you think that such an experience might scare someone and conceivably make them afraid of transients? I'd probably be pretty freaked out after such an experience.

The general tone of this discussion seems to be "I don't see what the problem is". But there are problems, and the homeless are tolerated, rather than revered, by citizens in every modern society.

That the suburbanite types are afraid is their thing. They chose suburbia for safety, and they get it. But they also don't get the highs that come with city life. Not, at least, without having to drive.

iozzi said...

I have never felt threatened by homeless people in Sac. The problem has more to do with compassion. I work on K street (in a building, not on the street itself) and I get asked for money at least once a day. I feel for them, but I can't support them financially.

I have to laugh when I hear someone say, "They just use that money for drugs and booze." Then that same person takes an anti-depressant because life is too hard, while I go have a beer.

Anonymous said...


Here's the difference: that person is paying for their beer or antidepressant with his/her own money.

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding me with the tolerance of homeless people downtown. Have you heard of the broken window theory? The worse an area looks the worse it gets as people avoid it and undesirables gravitate toward it. ALthough I feel for the homeless and do agree they need help. They should get that help from somewhere other then downtown. I have worked downtown in a public safety position. I have seen the homeless defecate and urinate in doorways which are rarely cleaned. The smell in and of itslef is oppressive. I have seen thugs come from other parts of the city to peddle dope to the homeless because it is easy and they don't have to worry about selling the fake stuff. I have witnessed on more than one occasion these homeless people blocking the path of pedestrians and invading their space as they ask for money. C'mon people. You are the problem. You are the enablers that allow this type of behavior to continue to degrade the heart of our city and our region. I have had numerous visitors from other parts of the country complain to me that they thought the city was trashy based on the proliferation of transients roaming the streets. It was embarrassing as a representative of the city to hear this. I noticed a transient harrassing two young ladies walking down the street. He asked them for money. They refused and kept walking. He ran back up to them and got in their face and continued harrassing them. When I stopped it I heard a knock on the window from some fat state worker who was watching. SHe was obviously upset with me interferring. WHen I went in to talk to her ahe told me the guy wasn't bothering anybody and had a mental condition. SHe said I should leave him alone. I told her that maybe the two girls he was berating were bothered by it. I am sure this women left work and went home to her house in Folsom or Roseville. The problem is that workers downtown don't live there so of course they think the homeless are ok. They go home to their suburban households after work. It is sad when I can't even bring my 5 year old daughter downtown for fear of harrassment or crime. Stop making excuses for the homeless. Stop putting up with the mess they create. I love downtown and would like to see it reach it's potential. I would also like to see the homeless and mentally ill get the help they need. Not just downtown.