Within the past month, The Black, a head shop in Ocean Beach, California, began selling a three and one-half inch square sticker that reads, "Welcome to Ocean Beach. Please Don't Feed Our Bums!"
Ken Anderson, buyer for The Black, thought that these stickers were "bad satire," but would be a big seller for because "people are tired of the aggressive panhandling of the homeless kids." He said that while he and the OB Community felt fine about the older homeless people who have lived in OB for many years, there has recently been "an influx of young homeless kids who don't want to work and who have cells phones and ATM cards from their mothers."
I interviewed housed and unhoused members of the OB Community to get their reaction to the "Please Don't Feed Our Bums!" sticker. Representative samplings of their comments follow.
Home Owner, long-time resident of OB: "They [the homeless youth] are very aggressive, very dirty and they go to the bathroom around my house so I have to clean up human waste.
[By buying, distributing and displaying many of the stickers] I've decided to take a stance and support the Community that wants to get rid of this behavior that is coming to our beautiful Community. If we don't, we'll just continue to be a haven for all of this."
A "bartendress," housed: "It's the street kids. They have money, they use drugs and they're capable of working. They're not even homeless! They all have cell phones and credit cards from their mothers. They're 'trustapharians' -- trust fund kids. Some people can't help themselves, but these young kids can help themselves."
Charles, adult, housed: "I'm housed. I sweep in front of this store everyday and I get a can of dog food as pay. There are homeless people who are good people. But the homeless kids have everything -- ATM cards from their mothers and even dogs, but they don't pick up the pooh-pooh."
Jen, 80 years old, housed: "The sticker doesn't say 'homeless' is says 'bums.' Bums [The homeless youth] ask for cigarettes and change. I'm sick of it. They should go home to their families."
Pop*Rocks, 15 years old, housed: "People don't have to be judgmental ... Everyone needs to smile more."
OB Wildlife, adult, unhoused: "First, they're trying to market the whole area [of Ocean Beach] as a place from the 1960's with "love-ins" and "then someone comes up with the sticker -- a stupid idea. I question the integrity of the sticker. They [The Black] make money off the sticker so they're helping themselves. Second, it's better for businesses that homeless people pick-up small change because 100 percent of that money goes back to the OB Community. Go ahead, run a test [on where money given to homeless people is spent]. All the money goes back to them -- the local shop owners."
Hannah, 18 years old, unhoused, lives in a truck: "I just want your [housed people's] respect. We just want to live our lives and be respected. It's a downturn economy. There are more people on the streets than I've seen before and a lot of them are young people."
Shaggy, 20 years old, unhoused: "I think the sticker is outrageous and not fair because they're taking out what some people are doing, not everyone. We're human beings, too. We're just as likely to help them [the tourists] as they are to help us.
I do have a cell phone because I have two jobs: laying cement and working at the tire store so I need the phone [to be in contact with his employers]. I grew up in foster care and I've been a street kid from 11 years old. A lot of kids out here [who are homeless] are struggling."
Jessi, 18 years old, unhoused: "I had a cell phone and it was stolen by a housed person. Just because we're homeless doesn't mean we're bad people."
Kandy, 19 years old, unhoused: "I think the sticker is funny ... I don't think of anyone as a bum ... we're not bums. We're no different than anyone else!"
Teddi, 20 years old, unhoused: "The sticker -- they judged a bunch of people [homeless youth] based on a couple of people doing something wrong. People don't look at the big picture, they just see a little part."
Kayla, 16 years old, unhoused: "I have no cell phone or ATM card from my mother. After all the time we've been here, now they put a sticker out and try to get rid of us ... the sticker is false advertising to get rid of us!"
Derrick, 32 years old, unhoused: "I think of myself as a protector. I watch out for the homeless kids out here. I was raised to think of others before myself. OB is like Haight-Ashbury in the day."
Tim, 46 years old, unhoused: "I was a house framer before I became homeless some months ago. There's no work out there."
Dennis, 21 years old, unhoused: "The sticker is a way to put people down. It puts me down. It's a diss ..."
Halie, 24 years old, unhoused: "I don't like the sticker. It is a pretty generic description of a bum. It looks like a hobo. We're homeless, but we'll work for food. It's sometimes hard to eat ... a cup of soup ... trash food. [Housed] People don't find the joke in it [the sticker]. They just agree with it."
Doug, 21 years old, unhoused: "We're not animals, so there shouldn't be anything about feeding humans. The sticker is about the bums going to bite you if you don't feed us."
In addition, Peter Callstrom, Executive Director of the San Diego Regional Task Force On the Homeless, offered the following comment:"The sticker is completely offensive and counter-productive. People who are homeless are not bums. Name-calling helps no one and only leads to divisiveness, fear, and disdain. The RTFH has created an alternative sticker that sends a message of compassion, not condemnation. To get an RTFH sticker, please go to www.rtfhsd.org. For The Black to profit from there hate-message is unconscionable and hypocritical. If The Black really wants to make a difference, they should give all proceeds from their sticker to the churches, agencies, and volunteers who are working tirelessly on solutions and actually helping people to return to lives of dignity."
Visit www.rtfhsd.org for further information on the RTFH sticker.