I’m Jeff, a police officer and unit commander eating pot luck in the community room of a middle-class neighborhood where residents must be fifty-five and most are a lot older. After lunch, I walk in front and, speaking without a microphone, ask if everyone can hear me. They can. I’m sure they also notice my beige shirt is more like that of a civilian than a cop, making me less threatening to the homeless, but I’m still equipped with a pistol, a taser, a radio, handcuffs, and plenty more.
There are always rumors, I say. All cities hear others are shipping their homeless to them. It’s not true. But if someone is stranded here and wants to return home, we have funds for that. We arrest quite a few people in the mountains east of Bakersfield, bring them to jail here, and when we release them in a day or two they become homeless here.
People who don’t have money or shelter flock where the money is, gas stations and stores. Panhandling makes many of them a hundred to a hundred fifty a day, more than minimum wage. They often live in Oildale and ride their bicycles or take the bus to Rosedale. When we ask them why they’re here, they say they can’t make any money in a poor place like Oildale. We can’t cite them anymore if they’re panhandling on sidewalks and streets. But if they’re trespassing in parking lots or private property, in and around your homes and offices, we can get involved if the owners will go to court and testify. Many don’t want to do that. They should, though. Trespassing is likely to continue unless homeowners and supervisors write letters requesting no trespass orders.
The homeless know we’re out there to help them, but if they break the law, things like theft and vandalism, we’ll arrest them. Your neighborhood here is very inviting to the homeless. You have a lot of carports and external storage sheds. They’re easy targets. Be careful about poor lighting and shrubs that are too high. At my house I’ve got all the shrubs cut back and a security system that rings the doorbell anytime someone steps onto my property. Eleven officers work in my unit throughout the community and at various times. We stop lots of men, and some women, too, who’re pushing shopping carts. Sometimes the carts are full of stolen property. It’s usually stuff they got out of dumpsters or found in public places. In order to arrest them for having a shopping cart, the cart’s got to have identifying markers, like the name of a market. Otherwise, we can’t do anything.
The best thing is to help people obtain housing vouchers. The process usually takes about nine months. They just need a driver’s license or social security number or birth certificate. Then they have a chance to get long term housing. They need to find landlords who accept Section 8 housing. At this point, though, all their creditors start finding them and billing them. For society, it’s good to help the homeless find places to live. It costs fifteen thousand less if they’re off the street. That means less police work and fewer medical bills for the homeless. Salt Lake City’s spent a lot of money on housing for the homeless and had good results. We need more of that in California. Homeless shelters are helpful, but they’re often full. And people can’t take their dogs into the shelters so some stay on the streets. Quite a few become squatters in vacant houses. The owner has the right to tell them to leave. But let us do that. Never confront them. You don’t know their mental state, their narcotic state, or if they’re armed. And make sure never to give them a deadline to leave or it’s an oral contract that has to be settled in court.