Tourism heavy cities unsure how to handle "homeless travelers" from Occupy movement

The LA Times has a feature this weekend on a story which really shouldn’t be shocking enough news to merit a mention, were it not for the media spin angle. They are talking about the problems caused by young, frequently aggressive panhandlers in warm weather cities which rely heavily on tourism for their income. It’s bad for business, but the problem is so widespread that there is no law enforcement budget to keep up with it.

But what’s really interesting is how they choose to describe these unwelcome guests, and even more to the point, where they came from.

[Santa Barbara Councilman Randy] Rowse and others say the nuisance behavior is mostly perpetrated by a small number of people. He said he began noticing the phenomenon a few years ago, after the Occupy movement swept in a wave of young transients who “know their rights” and can “recite the Constitution to you.”

“They aren’t breaking the law; for the most part they’re just hitting up people for money,” Rowse said. “The classic old broken-down homeless guy isn’t intimidating, but the young urban traveler, the free-range citizen, they’re physical, and they can intimidate people.”

Eric Rice, an assistant professor at the USC School of Social Work, said they’re simply homeless youth, who out of shame or fear call themselves “travelers.” The majority are peaceful and often victims of the violence and degradation that comes with living on the streets.

“Unfortunately, a small number of young people are making the rest of them look bad,” Rice said.

Urban traveler?

Free-range citizen?

We’re not talking about the disabled or insane in this article. These are young healthy people with a bad attitude. In the old days, we called them bums.

It’s interesting how they noticed this influx after the Occupy movement fell apart. And the rude, aggressive youths (some of whom mutter a homophobic slur at people who don’t give them money) are clearly able to educate themselves on all the local laws concerning loitering and begging to stay ahead of the cops, but can’t manage to apply that level of intelligence and ability to study in the general direction of getting a job. Does that sound familiar?

The solution, which has already been adopted in some cities, is not to try to build up the police force and jail resources to arrest them all, even if you could legally do so. It’s an impossible task. Much better is to get your limited number of police and any city volunteers you can muster to go post signs asking tourists not to give the “free range citizens” any money and to actively intervene when they see it happening. Tell the visitors that giving to charities, homeless shelters and food pantries is far more effective. It’s much the same theory as cutting down on the illegal immigration problem by eliminating jobs and social safety net benefits for those here in violation of the law. When you remove the incentive to come, the problem decreases.

Urban Travelers… Some days I just regret turning on my computer.