HOW DANGEROUS ARE THEY?

 By Loren W. Christensen

This article appeared in Survival magazine.  To learn more about personal safety, check it out How to Live Safely in a Dangerous World.

    Every city has them, and the bigger the city, the bigger the problem. They are called by different names depending on who is doing the talking. The bleeding-heart crowd refer to them as throwaway children, unloved youth, the disenfranchised, and the homeless. Downtown business folks call them street people, druggies and a-pain-in-the-butt. Cops, who see the results of their crimes and must thrash around with them on the sidewalk, often call them by more colorful and descriptive terms. For our purposes here, letís take the middle ground and call them street people.

    We are not talking about Bloods, Crips, skinheads, Southeast Asians, Latinos, Russians or any of the other mainstream gangs that have formed over the past couple of decades for purposes of killing each other and the occasional innocent bystander. Yes, these gangs do act out on the streets, but typically they live with their families, in communes, or are old enough to have their own cribs.

    Weíre talking about those people in their early teens to late 20's who have dropped out of normal society, or were never part of it from the get-go. Unlike todayís commonplace street gangs, street people donít return to a home at night, but remain on the streets to eat, sleep, and live. You see them peering out from downtown doorways, loitering outside fast food joints, sprawling on park benches and shuffling along in groups of three to ten.

    They look menacing with their eyebrows, lips, cheeks, tongues and noses pierced with everything from giant safety pins to beer-bottle caps. Their layered, often military-looking clothing is unwashed and graffitied with dirty words, swastikas and crosses. Their backpacks are stuffed with all that they own, including things that you use to own when you last left them in your car. The salivating junkyard dogs tethered to their backpack frames carry every disease know to man, which they are more than willing to share with anyone who ventures within range of their leash.

     Mentally, street people run the spectrum from weird genius to functional idiot to sadistic violent. Most are angry, hostile and volatile. They cling desperately to their own kind out of physical and emotional need, but will turn on each other in a quick second over a real or imagined infraction.

    Although the authorities usually donít label street people as criminal gangs, they nonetheless fit the basic definition of a gang used by many police departments: A gang is three or more people who commit criminal acts or exhibit antisocial behavior on a regular basis; they create a climate of fear and intimidation within a community; they have a high rate of interaction among members to the exclusion of other groups; they claim a neighborhood or geographical territory; and they wear distinctive types of clothing or exhibit a distinctive appearance.

    The primary element in this definition that changes a group of people to a criminal gang is their involvement in ongoing crime. And for sure, many street people are heavily involved in stealing,  intimidating, drug dealing and physically hurting people.

    Often when the police go into a specific area, say under an overpass near a large parking lot, and move the street people out, the incidence of car break-ins in that area drops dramatically. Street people see a parking lot as a free shopping mall where they can get all kinds of goodies to trade or sell to feed their drug habit.

    To be fair, it should be said that not all of them are drug users, thieves and muggers, though many are. So how can you tell who is and who isnít? You canít, and therein lies the problem. Therefore, to be safe, you have to consider them all a threat to your person and your property. And since knowledge is power, here are some typical traits found among street people that will help you understand their mind set.


    They see their world as full of hunters and prey. A street person becomes a hunter in search of a victim when he is need of something. You can easily become the prey when you are walking to your car, carrying that beautiful leather attache case and wearing your fancy schmancy Rolex. However, the hunter can become the prey when a bigger or better armed person balks against being the prey and decides he will be the hunter.

    To survive, street people live this philosophy: If itís smaller, eat it; if itís bigger, run from it.


    Many street people consciously or unconsciously feel that life is cheap, that it can end at any time. They see it happen from street violence, drug overdose and ill health as a result of  living in unsanitary conditions. Although they want to live as much as the next guy, they are less afraid of death than the average person who works nine to five in an office.

    In fact, some of them believe that getting shot or cut is a mark of status and will quickly and proudly exhibit their most recent scar. Whereas most of us deny that death is going to happen to us until some time in the unforeseeable future, their blase acceptance of violence and death makes them dangerous and a formidable adversary.


    By virtue of their lifestyle, some street people have limited, if any, qualms about using violence to get what they want. Itís common for them to claim that they come from families where violence was the norm, and, after living on the street for a while, they have learned that itís the only way to get what they want.

    Some of them love it, and you can see the sick joy they get from it reflected in their faces as they punch and stomp a hapless victim. A psychologist would say they are releasing their pent up anger over their traumatic potty training, their molesting uncles, ridiculing teachers, abusive authority figures, and so on. Whether their reasons to strike out are real or imagined, they nonetheless are quick to do so.

    What this means to you is that your threats and posturing machismo may not impress them. They just might smack you with a brick, skateboard or a trash can lid. Violence is what they know, and in some cases, itís what they are good at.


    Typically, street people feel they are oppressed and suppressed, and therefore free to do whatever they wish and entitled to take whatever they can. They only hesitate if they think they might get caught and even then that doesnít always stop them (see next header).

    They have a definite ďus vs. themĒ mentality, seeing themselves apart from so-called straight citizens. When they are caught, they refuse to take responsibility for what they do. Instead, they claim that their lives have been ruined by the victim filing a complaint and by the police officers arresting them.


    Imagine that itís 25 degrees outside with a wind chill factor of minus 10. You havenít eaten in two days and when you woke up this morning in the doorway of a long-closed downtown store, your backpack, in which you carried all your possessions, had been ripped off. You havenít had a bath in two weeks and your cold feels like itís turning into pneumonia.

    Consider all that and then think about the comforts of jail, with itís steady 72 degrees, three meals a day and warm bed. Sounds pretty good, doesnít it? That is the same way a lot of street people think and is the reason that the threat of jail really isnít a threat at all. This makes them brazen and willing to take chances, such as knocking you down to get your wallet. They figure if they get caught, they have nothing to lose and much to gain.

    As one street person said with a shrug when the cops threatened him with jail, ďJail? Hey, itís just another place to be. Fact is, itís better than out here on the mean streets.Ē


    There are a lot of cities that actually enable street people to live on their streets. Portland, Oregon is one such town. They provide street people with three free meals a day, free clothing, free blankets, clean up centers where they can wash their clothes and take showers, and places to spend the night. Portland is recognized by street people in every west coast city as a great place to get freebies. As a result, Portland has a huge problem that keeps the police busy chasing street people out of filthy encampments and investigating an assortment of crimes perpetrated by them.

    The police complain to the city government about the number of man hours the problem consumes, and angry business owners, terrified shoppers and people who live in the downtown area also complain. But the liberal city government doesnít listen. Instead, they develop more programs that provide street people with even more freebies.

    If you donít want this happening in your town, you need to be the squeaky wheel. You should know, however, that you are going to be bumping heads with some hand-ringing, pious types who are convinced they are reserving themselves a place in heaven by giving the ďhomelessĒ free food, clothing and bedding. They will call you a hate monger and say you are politically incorrect, but if you stick with it, you will at least be heard.

    In Portland, the police have criticized certain members on the city council for their many giveaway programs that attracts street people from all over. Instead of listening to people who are out there dealing with the problem, the cops have been accused of being heartless and insensitive. But the police have a lot of supporters from the business communities and from crime victims. While the giveaway programs are still in place, those complaining are growing in number.


    It is important that you be cautious around street people. Here are some easy offensive and defensive measures you can take to ensure your contact with them is safe.

Dress to run

- How you dress can affect how successfully you defend yourself.
- Women: Would you rather run from danger in a miniskirt and high-heels, or in a blazer, slacks and comfortable shoes?
- Men: Do your tight jeans, that long overcoat, those heavy boots restrict your movement?

Where to walk

- The old advice was to walk along the curb to avoid being grabbed by someone next to a building. The new advice, based on crime studies, suggest itís a better idea to walk down the middle of the sidewalk. That way you avoid anyone who hides between parked cars at the curb or who reaches out for you from along side a building.

- If you see a cluster of street people loitering at the curb, that is a time you should walk next to the building. You are at least safe on your wall side, just be cognizant of doorway insets and corners where assailants could be waiting for you to pass. If you can see street people on the sidewalk a ways in front of you, cross the street, or consider walking around the block.

- Donít get comfortable because you are nearing your business or downtown apartment. One third of all street muggings occur within four blocks of the victimís home.

Eye contact

- Though it was once sage advice not to look an unsavory types in the eye, we now know that predators look for people who appear lost in their own world, oblivious to their surroundings. Itís simply amazing how some soon-to-be-victims canít see five, filthy, freaky-looking street people gathered on a corner. But it happens all the time.

- Donít deliberately avoid eye contact with them because they just might think you donít know they are there. If you notice one or more looking at you, make brief eye contact with one or all off them. Some street people tend to avoid someone who looks like they might make a scene or respond assertively. They prefer someone who has the victim look: eyes downcast, slumped shoulders and a shuffling gate. Donít stare back and donít assume a defiant attitude. Just give them a quick look, one that communicates that you know they are there and you wonít be taken by surprise.

The Buddy system

- Having a buddy with you works when swimming and it works when walking on the sidewalk. Take someone with you and reduce the chance of being a victim by, what statistics show, 80 percent. Street people prefer their victims to be alone because they want the odds to be on their side.

When the street person is armed

- Not only are street people dangerous, itís dangerous being a street person. They  frequently arm themselves for protection because they live in a dog-eat-dog world where they also prey on each other. The police find knives and makeshift weapons in every camp they enter and, at least half the street people they encounter are carrying some kind of a weapon on their person or in their backpack.

- If you have the misfortune of facing an armed street person, give him your money, your coat, your shoes, whatever he wants.

- Avoid talking to him and donít give him any reason to get angry. Just give him what he wants while you memorize what he looks like so you can tell the police later.
 - The weapons of choice among street people are assorted knives and clubs and the occasional gun. Considering how many straight citizens own guns, have concealed gun permits, and then leave their weapons in their car, where, as discussed, street people love to ďshop,Ē itís amazing there arenít more floating around.

 - If itís a gun you are facing and your gut tells you he is going to shoot, throw your money to one side and then run like the wind in the opposite direction. Odds are he will go for the money. If he does shoot, the odds are in your favor that he will miss a moving target.

    Street people are not going away any time soon. They come to our cities bringing filth, disease and crime. They do nothing to contribute to society, but only suck off it and hurt people in the process. Itís a national problem that must be addressed by citizens, politicians and law makers.

    In the meantime, we must walk defensively among them.
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