The homeless, like the poor are, as Jesus depressingly observed, always with us. Admittedly the American poor are darned well-off, when compared to the poor in other times and in other places. It was reported last week on one of my go-to sites, that of all the homeless in the USA, half of them appear to have taken up residence on the streets, alleys and byways of California, although a fair number of the technically homeless are well-adjusted and employed, and merely living out of RVs, vans, trailers and automobiles parked on streets and parking lots because they cannot afford a rental of a dwelling-place without wheels on it. My daughter has brought home some pretty chilling observation of street people in Pasadena, over the last couple of years; the ubiquity of substance-addled and hygiene-challenged street people and their scratch encampments still shocks her, on every visit to family out there.
Not that we didn’t ever see street people, or vagrants here in San Antonio; there always were a handful, panhandling at certain intersections with a cardboard sign, hanging out at the bus station, or wherever there were services of any sort catering to the down-and-out. Sometimes when I had to use the city bus system because my car was at the garage, I’d see some truly odd people at the stops or sometimes on the bus.
Mostly we had to really go out of our neighborhood to lay eyes on the indigent, wheeling a rusty shopping cart filled with junk, except for that one older guy who is a rather gentle sort and more of a neighborhood character; an eccentric rather than a unhinged, unpredictable menace. Starting this year, though, to encounter the homeless all that is necessary is to drive a couple of blocks to the quartet of commercial strip malls, situated on a major crossroads – commercial strips which house the nearest HEB, the Planet Fitness outlet, the Big Lots and Dollar Tree stores, the Mexican grocery and at least a dozen fast food restaurants and eateries. The Next Door app that I subscribe to, in order to keep up with neighborhood events like yard sales, and recommendations for local merchants, is now also reporting frequent unpleasant encounters; aggressive panhandling in the parking lots, customers at the drive-up ATM feeling threatened; last week there was a post from an irate local man who came out of the supermarket to find a homeless man urinating on his parked car.
The general suspicion is that the sudden increase in the numbers of visibly homeless is because of several factors; the first being that this part of San Antonio is thickly threaded with green belts and parks – some situated along seasonal watercourses and patched with tracts of land which has never been built up. Much of these lands are wooded with scrub trees and large shrubs; a grazing ground for deer, coyotes and small wildlife and birds – and the homeless. Neighborhood Handy Guy told me this spring that there was a large encampment in the small grove across the street in back of the Lowes’ where we bought much of the materiel for my master bathroom rebuild – he said it was called “Sherwood Forest” among the cognoscenti. We also suspected that homeless cases were camping out in the wooded tract of land surrounding Comanche Hill; there have been posts on the Next Door app that hikers and people walking their dogs have been menaced, or at least, frightened out of going there alone any more. My daughter, who previously liked to run a long circuit along the major thoroughfare in the dark hours of early morning has given that up. She runs at the same hours now, but within the neighborhood.
Another factor is the presence of an enterprise which purchases plasma from donors; this used to be a Hallmark Card store; now the gossip on Next Door is that many of the indigents are selling plasma there to fund their various addictions, and that’s why they tend to congregate around that intersection. Plus, no less than four businesses at that intersection closed up shop rather abruptly or relocated in the last few months; a bank, two restaurants and a Discount Tire. Now those four buildings stand empty, and if you believe that anything more than cursory maintenance is being done on the outside, I have some fine Florida swampland on offer.
Finally – it appears now to be policy now to not hassle the homeless unduly. The police department, the city council, the DA all point the fingers at each other in assigning blame for the situation. Never mind that the horrible examples abound of what happens in a city and neighborhood when the aggressively deranged and substance-addled are permitted free range to camp, poop, and panhandle and otherwise abuse the tolerance of residents and business owners. I’d have thought that the city management of San Antonio would know better when it comes to virtue-signaling on behalf of the favored victim group over the interests of voting and tax-paying good citizens, but this is the body which saw fit to ban Chik-fil-A from among the airport food concessionaires.
What really has set the neighborhood ablaze with indignation and exasperation was a real blaze, in a tree and shrub-covered tract which backs on part of the neighborhood. There is a long stretch of land along Nacogdoches, between Spring Farm and Judson; formerly a buffer zone between a fairly busy main artery, and the backyards of houses in the neighborhood. There is a nursing home on one side of the entrance leading into Spring Creek, and a day-care center on the other side. One of the homeless encampments is – or was – among the trees at the back of that strip, almost hard against the boundary fences of the various residences. Last week, one of the homeless elements camping there set a fire which came close to firing the boundary fence, some trees, and according to one homeowner, very nearly his house. (Local news story here. The on-the-spot-reporter was grossed out by the smell. Yeah, imagine that, just over your back fence. Imagine not letting the kids play in your back yard because of that, and other dangers.)
Look, plenty of my neighbors are sympathetic about the homeless; there are resources noted on the Next Door app for helping out. Also generous city outreach programs to help those homeless people who want to be helped. It’s just that too many of them wish to live without rules, which would be OK, if they could live without rules and not adversely impact the civil, tolerant and law-abiding sorts. You want to live in disgusting squalor in the woods, in a tent with hot and cold running drugs and open prostitution and defecation being de regueur … knock yourselves out. Drug and whore yourselves to death, fine, as regrettable as the sober and law-abiding might find these personal choices to be. It’s still a free country, or so I have been informed. We can always patronize other businesses – we have that option. But setting up camps next to our homes and backyards? Carelessly endangering our homes and health? Yeah, where can we go now? This latest – is not good. There will be a public meeting at weekend to address this matter. We will attend, of course. The opportunity to grill our local rep will be priceless.