Whoís camping on my doorstep?

   Compassion has its limits, especially when trying to run a business. For example, consider the homeless problem.
   Itís a hot topic these days, and everyone seems to be searching for a solution. There are homeless people who are desperately seeking help and deserve to find it. My compassion for this group is boundless.
   Thereís another group of homeless, though, who flirt with your compassion because they would generally push you away if you offered anything besides a handout. These are the alcoholics, the occasionally loveable drunks, and they seem to be increasing in number in the area where my retail businesses are.
   This is no skid row, by any means. On the contrary, itís one of the highest rent districts in the country, primarily because of its exceptional foot traffic.
   And bums, surviving on handouts, thrive on people. Like retailers, the key to being a successful bum is location, location, location.
   Be compassionate, be compassionate.
   Those were my thoughts last Saturday morning when I investigated a commotion in front of my largest store. Standing in the middle of the main entrance was one of my favorite bums, who is a regular comedian on most days, entertaining pedestrians with one-liners picked up from years of bumming.
   This was of one of those days. Dressed in his usual rags, he was obviously having a very bad morning.
   "Youíre nothing but a (expletive deleted times 17) punk," he slurred, wild-eyed.
   I looked in the direction he was shouting, but there was no punk to be seen. He may have been seeing an army of punks, but it was his personal vision.
   A pleasant looking older couple, perhaps tourists from Omaha, walked by. Maybe they were shoppers, maybe not. Iíll never know, because after my former favorite street person levied a barrage of gutter language toward them, they quickly walked on.
   Now Iím no marketing genius, but Iíd guess itís not good for business to have a bum in your store entrance shouting obscenities at every prospective customer who walks by.
   Trusting my instincts, I politely asked him if heíd mind taking his act on the road. And Iím sure he would have if he had stopped his vulgar rambling long enough to listen.
   After 10 minutes or so of watching people cross the street to avoid his verbal barrage and my store entrance, I called the police. By the time they arrived, of course, the street person had gone to follow his invisible punk somewhere else.
   Heíd be back, though. In fact, I saw him later in the day, hanging out with a bunch of his bum buddies around the corner. They were laughing, having a grand old time. I donít know if they were drinking.
   I do know they werenít starving. One of them had a big, white, very healthy looking dog as a companion. I couldnít help but notice the dog munching away on a plate of what I swear was beef stroganoff. Meanwhile, the bums chatted away.
   Maybe it wasnít beef stroganoff, but is sure wasnít dog food. All I know is that while the bums seemed uninterested in the dogís lunch, it made me very hungry.
   Be Compassionate, be compassionate.
   Beginning to worry that the bums of the world would hold their next convention on my corner, I talked to the police about what could be done about the infusion of "happy bums" in my area.
   Very little, I was told. They can loiter, they can panhandle, they can sleep on a bench. Unless they are doing something specifically illegal, such as public drunkenness, blocking an entrance or erecting a tent on a public sidewalk, there was nothing the police could do.
   Being jobless and homeless is certainly no crime. These characters may not be good for business, but they have every right to be where they choose.
   And waiting around for them to do something illegal certainly isnít the practical answer. During our last cold snap, we caught a local bum stealing a jacket from one of our clothing stores. Before calling the police, we asked him why he did it.
   "Because I was freezing," he replied sadly but matter of factly.
   Showing that reluctant compassion, we issued a strict warning, let him go and gave him the jacket. Who knows, he may be in our doorway soon, greeting customers. At least heíll be better dressed than the last guy.
 

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