It was a beautiful morning. I was out with my dog, coffee in hand, spring in the step, on the way to the dog park.
My dog, like any takes his time sniffing every tree on the avenue leading to his favorite playground in downtown LA. He needs to find the right one to relieve himself, so I never rush him during our walks.
When my puppy found the spot he was looking for, he raised his leg, letting out a stream. A man who usually sleeps on the same avenue as the one we were on saw us. He gave us a nasty look.
My dog continued to pee. I wanted to stop him from finishing off his business, but it seemed like I was too late. The man sitting on the street was not sitting anymore. He got up from the ground, hurling abuses at my dog. I froze to my spot, not sure if I should turn around or continue walking ahead.
My confusion was cut short by my dog’s instinct. He hid behind my legs, then tried to pull me away with the strength of his shoulders collapsing in. Meanwhile, the man had walked over to us. I could see his bloodshot eyes staring down at me, big burly shoulders capable of serious harm.
At that point, my dog and I had no option but to flee the scene. We ran as fast as I could to the closest coffee shop, hiding inside until it was safe. We only went back home when we were absolutely sure that the man had turned away.
Brian, the concierge of my building saw me rush toward my apartment scared to the bone. He asked me what had happened.
“It’s this man, after me and my dog! I am pretty sure he was going to hit one of us.” I said.
“You better be careful.” Brian advised. “The man you’re talking about—does he sleep on the sidewalk right outside Starbucks?”
“Yes-yes! That’s him!”
“He kicked a woman’s dog last year. He does not like dogs. Goes after them viscously whenever he gets mad.” Brain said
“Hasn’t anyone called the cops on him?” I asked, concerned.
“Oh that woman who’s dog got hurt—she did. The police have taken him away many times, but they drop him back at his spot. I mean if they start locking away all the homeless in LA, may be they will run out of space.”
“That is scary and sad!” I exclaimed. “Has it always been this way?”
“Worse. Things are better now.” Brian said. “When I was a little boy, homelessness in this part of town was all over. My Church would have us boys donate food and clothes. But, regular folk didn’t have to deal with it in their day to day. They just came here to work and then left as soon as it was evening.”
“What happened then? Did the politicians step up?“
“No ma’am, not now, not ever. The politicians want nothing to do with it. Cause it’s a complex problem. Can’t be solved just by throwing money at it.”
“Now downtown has become this place where these fancy condos and restaurants are coming up. It’s no longer a place to just work at but a place to hang out and live at. And so people have started moving in.”
“People like me.” I said.
“Yes. Now those who lived here for many years—outside on the streets—have to deal with people who live inside their homes. It’s not pleasant for both.”
“Yes, of course not.” I tried to imagine what the man who had attacked me was going through.
“Here, take this number. If anyone attacks you or follows you—don’t call the cops, call the BID.” Brian suggested.
“I don’t even feel angry at the man for coming after my dog anymore.” I said. “I mean, if I really think about it. He did it because my dog decided to pee at a tree on the same avenue. It wasn’t where he was sitting. We were still at a distance. May be that didn’t matter to him.”
“Yep, that is one way of looking at it. But, you want to be safe. And sometimes it’s better to reserve pity for situations where you don’t get exploited.”
“Yes, may be you are right. May be, I will stay off that street altogether.”
Next day, when I walked to Starbucks to get my coffee, I took a different street. When I entered the shop I found a person on the floor. It looked like he had suffered a heart attack. His pupils were dilated, his body trembled, and froth trickled from lips gone white.
From the condition of his clothes, the man looked homeless.
Most people walked around his body to join the coffee queue. One person called the ER, holding onto the pulse of a man, hanging between two worlds.
I left the shop, unable to do either.