Wednesday, April 19, 2006

"It's a war on the homeless."

Longtime readers know that I've made friends with a guy named Chuck who mans a shopping cart out on our street. Chuck is a completely harmless guy with some missing teeth who is a Vietnam vet. Every morning, like clockwork, he mans his route with his tricked-out shopping cart, scavenging for cans and other items he can turn in for cash. He's been homeless at various times, but he has a residence of sorts these days, though he doesn't have a stove.

I caught him the other morning and gave him a treasure trove of our saved-up cans. (His eyes turn to saucers when I have a lot of them). But Chuck wasn't in a good mood that morning.

"I got ticketed," he announced.


"Yeah, I gotta go to court. And it's gonna cost me five hundred dollars."


"EXACTLY!" He said, laughing and spitting at the same time. "How am I supposed to come up with that?"

"Well, how did it happen?" I asked.

"They trapped me. And I was stupid. I shoulda seen it. See, it's illegal to take cans from the city trash cans."

"Yeah, I remember you told me that."

"They set up a dumpster and then put a bunch of cans and bottles on top of it. Then, they wait for you to pass by, see the cans, grab one. And pow! They ticketed me for stealing from the city, pushing a shopping cart..."

"It's illegal to push a shopping cart?"

"See," he explained. "Most of the cops around here. They know me. I know all the guys that drive the garbage trucks. They know I don't cause trouble. I take showers. I always try to have clean clothes, even though the clothes get greasy from the edge of the bins..."

And it's true. Chuck never smells. He never bothers people. I remember it took me a few times of saying hello, passing him by as I was jogging, for him to even acknowledge me. He's very respectful and tries to stay as invisible as a person pushing a shopping cart full of cans and bottles can be.

"So this city council woman. She hires a guys full time to do nothing but harass homeless people. They've been shipping them in from all over the city to the shelter up north of Vanowen."

"Well, what are you gonna do?"

He got a gleeful look in his eye. "I'll go to court but I'll make sure the cop has to be there. And I'll make sure the city council woman has to be there. I can't pay this."

I felt woefully inadequate standing there giving him my soda cans.

"I am so PISSED at myself! I knew it was a set-up. I just wasn't paying attention. The bin wasn't in the right spot. I know all the bins around here. I got reckless."

"So, wait a minute. You're telling me that they've hired someone to do nothing but set up phony trash bins. Then they bait the bins with bottles and cans sitting on top, waiting for homeless people to grab the bottles so they can give you a ticket for stealing from the city?"

He looked at me and smiled knowingly. "You got it. I'm so pissed at myself. It's a war on the homeless and they got me."


Anonymous said...

Cause you know those homeless people...they are going to STEAL our trash and RECYCLE it!!! HOW DARE THEY?!?!

Worst kind of terrorists.

You need to watch 'Lolli Love'.

Nonsequitur said...

I'm (almost) speechless... tax dollars being spent to bait and prosecute homeless people who are simply trying to make a little money and are doing something that is beneficial to the environment at the same time. This guy isn't panhandling in the business district, he's trying to make an honest living. So much for "Live and let live." We all know that concept doesn't really apply in this country anyway. I hope that if the poor guy doesn't get the charges dismissed, he at least makes some noise and gets noticed.

Steve, would a letter to the editor in a local paper be in order?

Anonymous said...

You know, this is just awful. Don't they have better things to do with their time than to bait homeless people who are recycling to get extra money? Like solving murders and other legit crimes? I can't believe it's against the law to take cans from a city garbage bin. That's just insane.

Steve Schalchlin said...

To be completely fair to the city -- and Chuck has no problem with this -- the city makes money off its recycling program, and this is part of what helps pay for keeping the city clean. It's a good program. And Chuck, who is very proud of the neighborhood, BTW, are very careful to steer clear of city-owned bins, preferring to pick up litter from the streets or to find things in private bins that have been thrown away.

What is disgusting about this new program is that they are actively attacking the homeless by baiting them into these traps. I am trying to imagine what mentality it takes to set out empty beer bottles on top of a bin in order to catch people who, otherwise, are just keeping the environment clean. How is he going to pay a fine like this? What is it they expect him to do? He tells me he's been cited several times for this kind of stuff and he just ignores it because he can't pay it anyway. And they have no jail space for harmless war vets like him.

I just found the whole story appalling. That "local paper" would be the LA Times and the LA Daily News. Stories like this don't reach the news desks because, well, how many people interview the homeless? They are ignored or just shuffled around to be someone else's problem.

Anonymous said...

Hey Steve: Kibs Here. Find a local contact with the VFW and/or the Vietnam Veterans of America ( and see what they can do, if not give the story some daylight... I'd like to send you $5 and send him to a movie one afternoon. (Please advise.

Steve Schalchlin said...

I have now written the LA Daily News city desk editor and told him about this, directing him to this blog. I also told him the name of the city councilwoman that Chuck said instituted this entrapment scheme.

Chuck doesn't want anything to do with the Veterans Administration. So, I would hesitate about going over his head on something like this.

DuWayne Brayton said...

It is insanity to me that they would spend the money, probably more money by far than they are "saving" to sting the homeless. The majority of homeless folks I know have mental health issues of various sorts and are not terribly capable of "regular work." In a respect I fit into that catagory accepting that I am not in fact homeless - but I do odd jobs for a living. And I am not entirely stable mentaly. . .

Anonymous said...

Look, I know this is an unpopular opinion, but the majority of the homeless have serious issues with addiction, as well as criminal histories. I have real compassion for them and their plight, but my trash-can is not a vehicle for social welfare. I live in the Hills, and I have sympathy for the coyotes, too -- but I'm not going to feed them, because they multiply and kill everybody's cats (oh, and tear up the garbage, too). I'm not going to invite the homeless into my neighborhood by making it easy for them to skim off the city's recycling revenue. It's petty theft, pure and simple. All the liberal whining in the world isn't going to change that. If you want to help a homeless recycler, invite them into your house and hand off your cans&bottles yourself. It's completely legal -- but I imagine your liberal tolerance won't allow bringing that homeless person into your kitchen, does it?

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