I Never Used a Shopping Cart While Homeless

...when I first hit downtown San Diego as a homeless person, I was taking my cues concerning "acceptable" behavior as a homeless person from other homeless people...
The late, great Helen Gurley Brown said something in one of her books along the lines of "Everyone steals office supplies. When you've taken so much that it makes you red in the face, stop."

I guess this is sort of a secular version of the Christian idea of "We are all sinners." Life works better when you have some reasonable degree of compassion and understanding for people, don't expect them to get everything right all the time and cut them some slack sometimes.

Christianity was birthed in an era when people tended to live in very small communities. These days, a high percentage of the global population lives in cities and this means we interact with a lot of people we don't know well enough to know what reasonable amounts of slack are for a given person.

So you get two forces at play that are actively helping to grow a permanent underclass in the US. Those are:
  • SOME people will excuse and justify their bad behavior with whatever lie you will believe and the best lies are half truths. They give you their sob story and expect you to let them get away with bad behavior. They count on good people giving them the benefit of the doubt and then they actively foment doubt to give themselves maneuvering room.
  • A lot of people have an 'outsiders' take on issues. They haven't experienced it firsthand. They don't know what is reasonable to expect. If they are TRYING to be decent people, they err on the side of cutting people slack, often too much slack.
Put another way, there is an element of classism driving trends in the US and it plays out in that comfortably well-off people think homeless people simply have no choice. It's sort of an inverted interpretation of that old saw "Beggars can't be choosers," as if being poor enough means you no longer have any capacity to make choices.

And so America tolerates behavior from homeless people in the name of compassion that it would never find acceptable in anyone else. One of those behaviors is being very obviously highly and openly in possession of stolen goods with zero shame, zero apology, zero attempt to HIDE that fact and that stolen property is shopping carts.

I have no idea what shopping carts cost currently, but the last figure I saw some years ago was $80 apiece. Multiply that by many local homeless people blithely stealing them and openly and unabashedly using them to cart their giant piles of crap around and this is a real cost for local businesses.

It also has a negative psychological impact on the person carting their crap around in a stolen cart. People who can very openly get away with the entire world KNOWING at a glance they stole that and saying and doing NOTHING about it in the name of "compassion" because YOU "have a sob story" tend to have their social behavior deteriorate.

They wonder what else they an GET AWAY with in the name of "Poor, pitiful ME. I'm HOMELESS." They also start to buy their own bullshit and BELIEVE that petty theft and the like is the ONLY option they have to try to survive and this actively helps to foster a lifestyle that KEEPS them homeless.

The very highly visible homeless are just the tip of the iceberg. There are MANY more people living in cars, crashed on couches, sleeping in a tent in the woods and NOT stealing shopping carts and putting their poverty on display for all the world to see. A LOT of homeless people PASS for housed and they do so consciously and intentionally because it makes their life better and they do NOT intend to get stuck on the street.

They are in college and HIDING their unhoused status. They have a job and don't want their boss or coworkers to KNOW they are unhoused. ETC.

Current programs to "help the homeless" tend to follow The Shirky Principle. They tend to help KEEP the problem alive so the program has a reason for being and can continue to get grants and yadda.

Everyone needs emergency help sometimes and if you aren't fortunate to have family and friends who can help you out, you may need a free meal, food from a food pantry, etc. But if emergency relief of that sort is ALL your city is really offering, you are helping to keep the problem entrenched.

Among other things, I would like to see more HIGHLY ACCESSIBLE storage options for homeless people. Think lockers with an armed guard that you can get into any time for AT LEAST a twelve hour window daily.

But I never had access to such and I NEVER stole a shopping cart and carted around a giant pile of crap while homeless and I was homeless nearly six years. Instead, I and my adult sons had anywhere from one to three bags/backpacks to carry our crap around.

I think police should arrest homeless individuals for theft when they are carting their crap around in a stolen shopping cart. Not doing so sends a signal that they can GET AWAY with a lot of petty shit in the name of compassion and not even BOTHER to try to hide it.

If you want to be NICE about it, come up with an informational flyer to pass out to the homeless population like the second one on THIS page, list local storage options -- both homeless programs AND rental storage, because not all homeless people are PENNILESS, they just sometimes don't have enough income to afford a middle class lifestyle -- list local places where they might get free bags/backpacks or cheap ones (such as the Salvation Army store) and list ALL the shelter options, especially EMERGENCY shelter in inclement weather (because one reason for those stolen carts is to carry around heavy bedding in winter).

Try to get more affordable housing built in your community (ideally more small units in mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods) and if you live someplace rainy, try to get the emergency winter shelters to open for ANY storms NOT just when it's below freezing. And announce your new policy of arresting people for their stolen shopping carts ahead of time so people have a shot at knowing it's coming.

And then institute a ZERO TOLERANCE policy for homeless people carting their crap around in STOLEN shopping carts. ARREST THEM if they do so.

You aren't doing them ANY favors by LETTING THEM steal shopping carts. People with shopping carts full of crap inevitably have TERRIBLE hygiene in part because you can't keep your giant pile of crap CLEAN while homeless. A lot of homeless people have health issues and this is a recipe for staying sick and getting sicker -- or becoming unwell if you weren't sick to begin with.

If they want to be a materialistic hoarder, they need to get back into housing. If they aren't in housing, well, they have no RIGHT to steal shopping carts to carry their crap. Plenty of homeless people live out of a backpack or a couple of bags of some sort, ergo it CAN BE DONE, and NOT just by me due to me somehow being all SPECIAL.

If they want to INSIST on carting around a giant pile of crap while homeless, let them BUY themselves a cart. If they don't have a receipt for their SHOPPING CART, you pretty much know it's stolen property. People on the street who buy carts don't buy shopping carts.

Shopping carts aren't even that good for the use case. They get used because they are "free" and they are "free" because everyone looks the other way and goes "We are going to pretend we don't know that is STOLEN PROPERTY you are OPENLY DISPLAYING." -- including THE POLICE.

Letting them BLITHELY and OPENLY walk around with STOLEN property that EVERYONE LOOKING AT THEM KNOWS IS STOLEN tells them "The rules no longer apply to you." And this does NOT go good places. It ONLY helps them to establish patterns of behavior that will make it increasingly difficult to get their life back.