On beggars and thieves

I’ve met too many able-bodied beggars to feel sorry for any of these people.

It’s a natural tendency to look back on the past and call them the “good ol’ days.” Most of the time, I avoid that generality. However, this might be an accurate depiction of the changes in our “homeless community.” I prefer to use the term “street bums.” In any case, homelessness has changed greatly in the last 30 years.

My favorite stories of my grandmother involved hobos. Hobos being the “golden age” term for bum. During the ’50s, and early into the ’60s, hobos would visit my grandmother’s home in little Parkers Prairie, Minn. Her house was conveniently located right along the railroad tracks, making for easy access.

Grandma Edythe’s home was a regular stopping point for hobos. They would walk right into the house, normally using the side door. Edythe would feed them and sometimes they needed a bed for the night; most of the time they didn’t. Sometimes they would do chores, sometimes they didn’t. But my grandmother thought it was her Christian duty to help others, and despite her poverty, she would.

This is quite a remarkable story, considering that my grandmother had four teenage children in the house and was a single mother. But the hobos were very respectable people. They were a product of their time. In most cases, they represented cases where the marketplace had failed. They wanted work, but couldn’t find any.

A measure of the length of the day hobos went through to make some sort of a living can be found among numismatists. For approximately $15, collectors can buy what are called “hobo nickels.” Hobo nickels are normally buffalo nickels that have had one side sanded off, and then the hobo would carve a self portrait or other picture into the blank nickel. They would then sell these nickels to help themselves.

That’s how it used to be with the downtrodden. Something fundamental has changed. The University is now a magnet for homeless in the area. Not in the sense that the homeless are looking to do a few chores or to sell hand-crafted items, but in the sense that idiot college kids have too much of their parents’ money to give to beggars. As sad as this is, the area homeless are also criminals.

Last March, the Daily did a large spread on some of the homeless around the University; the story focused on Canada Dan, but also mentioned several others. Among them George Williams, an “alleged” thief (because, although he was caught stealing in broad daylight, he hasn’t been convicted in court, sort of how like Stalin was an “alleged” mass murderer because he was never convicted in court) and Jimmy Hitchcock, a person I’ve had a few uncomfortable run-ins with.

These men, and others, are substance abusers and dangerous. But Canada Dan is an exception, I’ve met him once, and he’s a good guy. You might call him a throwback to earlier days. Canada Dan admits his situation was one of choice, in the article he is quoted saying, “I made my own choices.” God bless him, he’s right. I’ve met too many clean-cut, able-bodied and sane beggars at the University to feel sorry for any of these people.

Sure, there are probably people who are homeless who need sympathy, people with mental diseases being the most apt case. Unfortunately, in my years living on campus, I have not met a single person who meets that criterion. It’s time to stop giving money to these people. And that’s easy to do.

Marty Andrade welcomes comments at [email protected]