Bum Fight, Or: Let's Talk About The "B" Word

Thank you, Angela Hunt, for putting the B-word on the table. I could make an argument that fear of the B-word is the main reason we can't get off the dime about homelessness.

Bum! There. I said it, too. Bum bum bum!

Some of them are not simply "homeless persons." Home has got nothing to do with it. They're bums! They want to be bums. They like being bums. It is their profession. If they took an aptitude test, it would say at the bottom, "Best suited for career as bum." It's what they do. They are in the bum business. Bums R Them.

Oh, man. I really needed to get that out. I feel a great weight lifting from my shoulders. Thank you, thank you, Angela, for giving me permission.

It was a couple weekends back that Hunt, the Dallas city council woman who represents the center-city, fired off some hot-tempered tweets about bums in Main Street Garden park downtown, accompanied by phone-pix of vagrants lolling on the green. Her main point was that the presence of aggressive, panhandling bums pretty much precludes use of the park by people, including her and her family, who are off-put by them.

Since then The Dallas Morning News has wagged its bony editorial finger at her, reminding her that, "the law does not permit discriminatory enforcement based on a person's dress or personal grooming."

I beg to differ.

Several years ago, after the Observer moved out of its downtown loft offices on Commerce, I was feeling homesick, so I drove by the old place. I was told we had to move because some of the women on the staff were tired of having to deal with the phalanx of BUMS who lurked between our back door and the parking lot. I didn't want to move, so I guess I thought the women were being sort of weenie about it.

So the day I drive by, there's a guy walking slowly down the sidewalk past the front windows of our former headquarters. He's somewhere between 20 and 120 years old. He has shopping bags in both hands, which he is sort dragging along on the sidewalk. He is shuffling like a prisoner in shackles because his trousers are around his ankles. So are his boxers. His male member is at half mast, wagging back and forth.

That's a "dress or personal grooming" issue. A big one. I thought to myself, "O.K., Schutze, exactly what are the women on the staff supposed to do when they see Mr. Member coming down the sidewalk at them? Wave and say, 'How are you, guys?'"

No, at a certain point the answer is to move offices. If there is absolutely no way for civilization to defend itself against Mr. Member, then Mr. Member wins. It's his turf, and he is welcome to it.

It's true that we can't solve the issue with cops, mainly because the cops wouldn't have time to do anything else. And it would be wrong to conflate all homeless people with crazy, wild, drugged-out criminal vagrancy.

But Hunt is also right in observing that some communities seem to find an answer. If Dallas is serious about bringing downtown back to life, the city will have to figure out some way to work the legal puzzle and get something done. Maybe getting the B-word on the table is just what we needed to get started.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze