Coffee heat rising

Bum’s Paradise

Having taken to walking the pooch twice a day on mile-plus rounds of the ‘Hood and the Richistans (upper and lower), of late I’ve found myself noting the amazing number of places where homeless folk (who abound in our parts) could pass the night without harassment.

Most of these people are pretty harmless, except that they steal. Apparently few of them have the energy to commit a rape (except for the guy who jumped over one family’s back fence to show off the family jewels to a couple of toddlers…he was a little strange…). They rarely heckle women. Their burgling skills do not often rise to the level of breaking and entering. At the park, the poor souls just sit there and zone out, far as I can tell. They will, of course, take anything from your yard that’s not red-hot or nailed down, by way of peddling it to support their drug habit: bicycles, trikes, children’s toys, decorative plant pots. And at any rate, one would just as soon not host uninvited guests in one’s side yard, especially since some of them will leave a bit of a mess at their campsites.

The tide of bums that came with the extension of the light-rail boondoggle up Conduit of Blight Boulevard has receded a bit, of late. Dunno why. My guess would be that either the city has finally heard the nonstop complaints from outraged neighborhoods (hah! fat chance!!) or maybe the lightrail has stopped forcing people to get off at the end of the line, up at the intersection of Blight and Gangbanger’s Way. Over in the Richistans, a well-connected and ambitious neighbor led a charge to make the city install gates on one of the alleys. That alone seems to have interrupted the invasion: apparently that alley was a Bum’s Highway, and now that passers-through can’t get to where they want to go via the neighborhood short-cuts, they stick to the main drags.

The main drags are surely where they congregate. Between Conduit of Blight and the freeway, sometimes I’ll count 10 to 15 panhandlers begging for handouts along Gangbanger’s way. If you try to go into the Walgreen’s at the corner of Main Drag South and Conduit of Blight, you’re likely to be swarmed by a crowd of panhandlers — I will no longer get out of my car in that store’s parking lot, nor will I visit the Albertson’s across the street at that intersection. One reason for that is that the city has kindly installed a meth clinic on Main Drag South, a few blocks to the west of Blight. Users ride the lightrail up to M.D. South, walk over and get their fix, then loiter around the convenience market across the road from the clinic, where they dig through the trash and pester customers for handouts, and hover around the parking lots and bus stops near the intersection.

Makes Sun City look good, doesn’t it?

Well. No. Not yet, it doesn’t. But there’s still Fountain Hills, Prescott, and Patagonia… 😉

So anyway, back to the point: Yesterday afternoon I’m counting. Since we often walk through the Richistans after dark (yeah, I know. But a] if someone is going to pounce you, they’ll pounce you in broad daylight as easily as after dark; and b] well…ahem… Make my day!), I’ve noted the number of nooks, crannies, shrubs, unused spaces in carports, pony walls that hide space from street view, and the like.

When SDXB and I spent three months backpacking and camping through Alaska and Canada, we rarely stayed in campgrounds, unless we’d bummed a ride with someone who was given to spending time in those places. Most of the time we just set down wherever we happened to be. Occasionally we would set up camp in parking lots — and interestingly, no one would stop us or roust us. So I’ve developed an eye for decent places to camp in urban settings.

  • Oleander hedges with enough space between them and the yard’s fence to fit a sleeping bag
  • Empty carports
  • Side yards with no motion-sensitive lights over them
  • Pony walls that create comfy hiding spots, right out in front of God and Everyone
  • Vacant properties
  • Alleys

The alleys here are long, perpendicular flophouses. The bums use them not just to camp in but as toilets of convenience. And on pickup day, they’ll go through the trash before the trucks arrive, looking for credit-card statements and other documents that they can sell to identity thieves.

We passed six such alleys, which in theory could accommodate dozens of bums in peace and quiet. In the low-rent section, the original alley right-of-way included an alcove for trash cans behind each residential lot. The little strip of alley behind my street has about a dozen of them. These provide comfy, semi-private hideaways for the weary traveler. They make convenient outhouses, too. And just in the mile and a half circuit that Ruby and I traverse on a routine doggy-walk, there are forty eight properties with comfortably dark side yards or pony walls that block the view from the street.  In addition, some months ago a house caught fire, rendering it uninhabitable. Apparently the residents had no insurance — or maybe setting fire to your shack whilst cooking meth renders it uninsurable, I dunno. That place has been abandoned, apparently with the furnishings intact: a perfect bum’s hideaway!

In addition, the neighborhood fly-by-night nursing home entrepreneur (Yes: Tony the Romanian Landlord found a new money-making gambit!) had bought and converted a big old ranch house on the northern end of Lower Richistan, right before the covid plague struck. His client nursing-home operator shut it down, evidently trying to cut their losses in time of covid, and so that house stands vacant. To his credit, he keeps it maintained…but with a quarter-acre backyard, covered patios, and an empty carport, it still is a perfect site to throw down for a night.

So that’s about 60 potential campsites. Just on a walk that doesn’t even cover a tenth of the neighborhood’s area.

Think o’ that! No wonder the place is overrun.