Well I'd like to offer a realistic perspective on where this discrimination may stem. And while this may seem a bit harsh during this "season of giving," the situation in Hoboken is one that needs to be dealt with no matter what time of year.
Let's start with the "general public." I think general consensus is that it would be nice to be able to walk down the street without being harassed. In the past I've referred to it as the Hoboken Gauntlet - the trail of panhandlers with varying degrees of aggression that leads from the PATH Station to about Third and Washington. You have the guy on the corner of Newark and River, the guy outside Starbucks, a few guys in front of CVS, another guy posted across the street near Re-Juice-A-Nation, a whole string of guys in front of City Hall, then the Dunkin' Donuts guy, the old Quick Chek gang, the former Rite Aid posse, finally ending with the motherload in front of McDonald's.
Towards the end of the gauntlet is where it gets more aggressive. These are the guys that run all over the sidewalk shaking that cup in your face, or the ol' doorman routine where they use one hand to open the door in an act of kindness while the other one is palm up looking for the handout. And should you refuse to pay the toll, you're met with an often vulgar response. Should you ignore them, you're accused of being rude, whereas in my eyes, rude is harassing people as they walk down the street.
Other named discriminators are "privately owned businesses." But see that's just it - these are privately owned businesses, not public refuges with government subsidies to provide shelter and sanitation for Hoboken's homeless.
As a bartender, I've been forced to deal with cleaning the saliva, urine, feces, blood, mucous, menstruation, and earwax of homeless who have downright obliterated my restrooms - restrooms that are privately owned for use by paying customers. I've had money stolen off the bar by homeless individuals. I've seen a homeless guy stagger into a bar, walk up to a patron's plate, and steal handfuls of onion rings. With images of that history in mind, I refuse to grant access to the bar to homeless individuals. As a result, I have had more than my fair share of altercations, some physical. I have had my life threatened, my female co-workers have had their lives threatened, and my patrons have been disturbed by the frequency and severity of these outbursts.
It's gotten to the point where I literally have seven bags full of clothes sitting in my hallway that I'm afraid to donate because I consider it to be a distinct possibility I'll be assaulted by someone wearing my old sweater. Of course that might explain why the police tend to monitor the homeless with a suspicious eye. The fact is, some homeless people commit crime. Week after week, the Hoboken Reporter Police Beat details shoplifting incidents, disorderly conduct and other criminal activity by homeless individuals. A few weeks back, a serial robber was apprehended after breaking into several bars and restaurants - his listed address was the Hoboken Coalition Shelter.
Do other people commit crime in this town? Of course they do, but as the homeless tend to be more conspicuous it should be no big surprise that they attract a bit more attention. Then again, I've been witness to numerous occasions where police officers have chosen not to act on a situation involving a homeless person because "it's just not worth the hassle."
As a result, these same individuals continue to harass the same locations because they know nothing will come of it.
So what's the answer? What do we do about the homeless problem in Hoboken? I don't know. I guess we continue to support the systems in place to help these individuals (www.hobokenshelter.org). I guess I should take my seven bags of clothes to the shelter. I guess privately owned businesses throughout Hoboken should continue their support of the shelter all year long. I suppose the policemen who collected jackets for the holiday coat drive should keep doing what they're doing. And I suppose we should hope the homeless individuals in this town who sometimes bite the hand that literally feeds them can find a way to peacefully coexist with others in this ever-shrinking square mile.
Christopher M. Halleron, freelance writer/bitter bartender, writes a biweekly humor column for The Hudson Current and websites in the New York Metro area. He spends a lot of his time either in front of or behind the bar in Hoboken, New Jersey where his tolerance for liquor grows stronger as his tolerance for society is eroded on a daily basis. Feel free to drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.