Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Surprising police presence

I ran into a police officer friend downtown today. I don't usually see him in uniform downtown, so I asked him if he got reassigned to the downtown district. No, it turns out. They're doing special patrols for the FFA convention. Not for the FFA kids themselves; they might be the friendliest possible group of conventioneers any city has ever seen. They're patrolling for the con men and panhandlers who show up downtown to take advantage of the young, mostly-rural FFA members. The usual downtown residents and workers are immune to heart-rending sob stories, and we call the police about the actively aggressive panhandlers. But the bum crowd has figured out that they can bully money from the FFA kids pretty easily. So they're hanging around everywhere, telling their usual sad tales about "just needing a few bucks for a bus ticket home" or whatever, getting in people's faces, acting threatening, and taking some serious cash from the FFA students. Thankfully, IMPD's presence is calming it down a bit this year. Still, I'm seeing more of the panhandling-wino-American demographic than usual this week downtown.

As a group, I really do feel sympathy for the homeless. It's a diverse crowd, with some scary statistics (for example: the average age of a homeless person in Indiana is 9, according to a local homeless charity; the biggest demographic of homeless is the "homeless families" category). Unfortunately, homeless charities fight an uphill battle for recognition and awareness, because the face of their issue isn't one of the many homeless families or children. The face of their cause is the scary, violent, mean guy on the street corner, threatening passers-by and holding angry conversations with imaginary people. He's pitiable, but not sympathetic....

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