A Perspective on the Issue of Aggressive Homeless Population

Jack Armstrong spoke on Tuesday at City Council and here he was at the homeless forum last October hosted by the Davis Chamber.

During their discussion on aggressive panhandling, council noted a lot of angry voices speaking out for limiting the number of homeless people.  During the main public comment prior to the specific item, one person who spoke out was Jack Armstrong, who had spoken during the Chamber forum on the homeless last fall and talked about the incident with his family.

He spoke toward the item “dealing with the aggressive portion of our homeless population.  I believe our police force needs tools to deal with that.  My family was the victim of a crime with an aggressive homeless person this past fall – he’s going to state prison.

“My two children are still in counseling.  One of them hasn’t attended school this year because he can’t hardly leave the house,” he explained.  “It’s a pretty difficult situation.

“This particular gentleman could have been dealt with that day or certainly (in an) earlier circumstance if our police had the ability to deal with the aggressive population,” he said.  “Currently we do not.  Which is kind of silly really.

“I don’t know how many of you know who Marcos Breton is.  He’s a progressive columnist for the Sacramento Bee.  And a great liberal voice for Sacramento and the state of California.  Wrote this column recently about one of your meetings.  The title: ‘Hopeless liberal city title goes to Davis.’”

Mr. Armstrong read: “Members of the Davis City council for timid obfuscation this week by first considering common-sense measures targeting the vexing social issue of aggressive panhandling and then failing to act on them…  It was tragicomic to watch Tuesday night’s council meeting, an amazing show of misguided intentions obliterating reasoned debate and proportional action.

“Davis has remained paralyzed on this issue for a year. Meanwhile, even liberal Berkeley has been able to withstand the heat from homeless advocates and hyper-moralists, adopting ordinances to prevent the obstruction of public streets for the safety of all two years ago. Sacramento passed ordinances meant to curb aggressive panhandling and harassing behavior in city parks in November…

“There have been reports of people being accosted at ATM machines, and of streets and alleyways being blocked by homeless men and women and their possessions…  But the council hasn’t been able to make a decision – and they punted again this week.”

Mr. Armstrong scoffed, “I wonder if we’ll get a similar article after this meeting.  We’re now fodder for humor among even the progressives who follow our politics.  Do we want to be that far out there on this issue?  Some of you do, I realize.  But I don’t think most of the people who live here in Davis, want to be where we are currently.”

He added, “I had a long conversation with the chief of Police of Vacaville, some of the tools they were able to get to deal with the aggressive population – we need those tools here.  It’s ridiculous that our police have no ability to deal with somebody who is acting aggressively.”

Mr. Armstrong stated, “Davis has changed so much in the years I’ve lived here.  Since the crime was committed against my family, I’ve talked to so many people and an earlier person commented on this, about our common spaces where you can’t go anymore after a certain time of night or you sure wouldn’t go there with your kids.

“All the tax money we pay, what it costs to live in a house in Davis, so we can have these beautiful parks and bike paths and so many of them you can’t go on anymore because they’re scary.  I don’t think that’s what we want.  I don’t think that’s what most people in Davis want and I hope we can enact item nine.”

On the other hand, people like Lawson Snipes and Mayor Robb Davis questioned whether an aggressive panhandling ordinance would solve the concerns.

Lawson Snipes took exception to the word “aggressive.”  He stated, “We don’t have aggressive panhandlers.  What we have are sign flyers.

“I don’t see the aggressiveness related to panhandling.  I see aggressiveness in the downtown.  I see people screaming.”  What he sees are people who are scaring even him, those who are severely mentally ill.  He said, “We’ve systematically chosen not to treat them.  If you want to talk about aggressive behavior let’s talk about untreated mental illness.”

The council voted 4-1 to approve the aggressive panhandling ordinance over the objection of Mayor Davis.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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30 thoughts on “A Perspective on the Issue of Aggressive Homeless Population”

  1. Tia Will

    “dealing with the aggressive portion of our homeless population”

    I have deep sympathy for the experience of Jack and his family. However, I cannot support the singling out of the “aggressive portion of our homeless population” or “aggressive panhandlers” as special groups as this ordinance clearly does in several of its subsections which specify application to those asking for money or other items of value. I have my own experience to illustrate why.

    When my children were about 6 & 3, we were in the car in the E street parking lot waiting for a woman to pull out so we could have her space. The man behind me, in a car significantly more expensive than mine, started honking. First a polite tap. Then more aggressively. Next, he got out of his car, walked up to mine and knocked on the window. Thinking there must be something wrong with my car, I rolled the window down. Only then did I notice that this very clean, well dressed man was furious. He started yelling at me about blocking his way. He called me a “bitch” and waved his fist at me. By now the kids were terrified and crying. I kept my voice calm and low and explained I was waiting for the woman who was now completing her exit. He backed away from the car, still yelling and waited for me to park my car. After calming first myself, and then the kids down, we went to the bookstore as planned, with a follow up at Baskin Robbins to reassure them that most people are friendly and caring and to leave them with a happy memory of the trip downtown. We did not subsequently avoid the downtown area because of this experience.

    My point is that aggressive behavior is in no way limited to either the homeless or panhandlers in our community.  Aggressive behavior reflects an inability to modulate anger and is no respecter of economic status. I had a second, parking frustration induced incident in the Marketplace parking lot a few years later. And yet, our city council chose to group a collection of behaviors that are not isolated to the homeless/panhandling population and target only that group. This is easy to do because they are visible and easy to group as “different from us”. But in their ability to manage anger and its manifestation, as a group, they are not so different from the rest of us, even if we want to believe so.




    1. John Hobbs

      “My point is that aggressive behavior is in no way limited to either the homeless or panhandlers in our community.”

      Most certainly true. and relevant to this issue. For years a severely withdrawn woman sat on the sidewalk near a bus stop on Florin rd. She would occasionally put up a small basket with a sign that simply said “Help.” Over the years, walking by at least a hundred times, I only heard her speak softly and in a foreign language, to say “thanks” when someone dropped a dollar or some coins in her basket. I cannot count the number of loud and rude jeers from those who felt offended or inconvenienced by her presence.

  2. Ken A

    Interesting that Tia “cannot support the singling out of the “aggressive portion of our homeless population” or “aggressive panhandlers”” but has no problem “singling out” a “man in an expensive car” that yelled at her in the 1990’s…

    Pro Tip #1 When waiting for a parking space downtown put your signal flasher on so people behind you know you are waiting for a space and not just blocking the road.

    Pro Tip #2 Shopping centers like the Marketplace never fill up so you don’t ever need to block traffic waiting for a space (no one likes the person that traps them blocking a lane waiting for a lady to pack her car and strap her kids in to car seats just so she could park five cars closer to Safeway)…

    P.S. It would be nice if David pulls Jack’s real last name from the blog since like me his views don’t always match the PC views in Davis where “all homeless and dreamers are great and all white men are evil” and the more people that know who his kids are the more likely that people in Davis will punish the kids for the views of their Dad…

    1. Howard P

      Just a thought Keith…  the P.S. was a tad gratuitous…

      I particularly liked Pro Tip #1, though… that’s what my family does… works pretty damn well…

      1. Ken A

        If you look at Jack’s name in the photo it is clear that he does not want his real name out there so if David does not respect that I’m wondering if he will be doing a full on Doxing and post his home address, kids names and the Davis school they attend to make it even easier for people to f with the family…

        1. Tia Will


          I feel about public statement much the way that I feel about anonymous posting. If you do not want your identity to be known, it is probably best not to make your comments public. If one is attacking, whether the members of our city council, the police, fellow posters, or members of an identifiable group that one does not like to see in our downtown, it is best to do that via private communication. I strongly believe that it is wrong to hide one’s own identity while calling out those who stand by their beliefs and positions publicly or who are unable through circumstances to hide their identity.

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          I’m posting this to response: he gave his real name to the council when he delivered his public comment. I’ll accept your apology now. Also I find your comment regarding Doxing ironic.

        3. Ken A

          I’m betting that Jack is not happy that his name is now on a blog, if David posts and e-mail from Jack saying he is cool with it I’ll apologize.

          P.S. When you are retired (or close to retirement) and don’t have kids in town you don’t have much to worry about when saying things that people in town are not happy to hear…

          P.P.S. Some people get real upset when they hear things they don’t like on the radio:

  3. Tia Will


    but has no problem “singling out” a “man in an expensive car” that yelled at her in the 1990’s…”

    I was presenting a specific anecdote exactly as did Mr. Armstrong . Giving an example is very different from calling for targeting a specific group. Also the city council, despite my relaying to them this incident, did not single out “male drivers of expensive cars” as a class to be specially targeted as they did the visibly poor in downtown.

    As for your pro tips:

    1. I had both signaled and indicated manually that I was waiting for a spot.

    2. At the Marketplace, the issue is not “filling up” it is impatience or not wanting to walk from the “back 40” to ones destination.

    Unchecked anger or aggression is not about one issue. It has many causes. My point is that we should not be targeting or stigmatizing only one cause when many exist, especially if that means targeting one group for special police or judicial action as the 4-1 majority of the council chose to do. This was most honestly addressed by Lucas when he used the “carrot and stick” approach with this ordinance being “the stick” clearly aimed at a given population even though they chose to call it “behavior”.

  4. Michael Bisch

    Both the home-less and the home-plus engage in rude, offensive, aggressive behavior. Individuals from both classes urinate in public, yell, threaten, invade personal space, make rude comments and gestures, walk around with half their asses showing, litter, destroy property, etc. The fact that the impetus for the ordinance and the commentary around it is focused on the home-less makes it clear that the motivation for the ordinance is the home-less condition, not the behavior as some are claiming. And having seen a number of the emails and letters advocating for the ordinance, it is quite clear that this is an anti-home-less ordinance, not an anti-behavior ordinance.

    Newsflash! There is nothing illegal about being home-less.  Just because some cities are intentionally targeting a certain population doesn’t mean we should. We’ve seen more than enough of that. Instead, we should focus on creating and executing constructive programs to address root causes.

    PS: As for the incredibly offensive commentary from Marcos Breton, the “progressive columnist for the Sacramento Bee”, his commentary was completely divorced from the facts.  Even progressives can be jerks.

    1. Tia Will

      Thank you Michael. Your comment reminded me of the meeting I attended and wrote an article for the Vanguard previously regarding the Pathways to Employment program, a collaborative effort between the city, Sutter Health, the interfaith community and some downtown business owners including yourself. It is this kind of leadership, not increasingly draconian and targeted ordinances that provides the best hope of improving the situation of the most economically and sometimes medically challenged members of our community. That is assuming that we actually want to help them, not just remove them from our sight.

  5. Alan Miller

    The City Council got this exactly right:  bathrooms, lockers (did that actually pass? . . . maybe I spaced) and reasonable ordinances empowering police to act in specific circumstances.

  6. Sharla C.

    Berkeley was overrun by panhandlers when I lived there in the mid-1980’s.  It was awful.  We found that people were coming to liberal Berkeley from their apartments in Oakland and elsewhere to panhandle, because it was so lucrative.  People be came aggressive, screaming and physically threatening those who wouldn’t give money.  I started driving out of town to shop and go to movies, etc. due to the gauntlet of people blocking the entrances to businesses and several instances where people approached and touched my children.   My children couldn’t go next door to play with friends unless they were accompanied by an adult – it became that dangerous.  Berkeley was spending millions on homeless services, but it didn’t matter.  The City finally started enacting curbs on certain behavior – distances from doors of businesses and ATM, no sitting/lying on the sidewalk, no contact with people in city parking lots feeding money into meters, no aggression, etc.  It was hard, but people had had enough.  The biggest thing the City did was to educate people to not give cash to panhandlers.  That was ultimately the most effective step.  The City ramped up its homeless services even further to help those who were truly homeless, but cutting off the cash drove away the professional panhandlers and the people who were only collecting money for drugs and alcohol.   People need parameters to their behavior.  We wear clothes when we leave our home.  We would be arrested if we didn’t, but rarely do we need to enforce this.  Why not enforce civility, even for the homeless or mentally ill?  Why do people want to give them a pass?  It is not helping them and it is not helping the community.

    1. Howard P

      It is regretful that you and yours went thru that…

      I do not give $.  If I am touched, I offer them a meal, when they are nearby a fast-food establishment.  Often share the meal with those who accept.  Those who decline or curse me for not giving money, I ignore… that’s on them, not me.

      One exception… a few times, I got a number of $2 bills… I’d give them out, telling them that they should put it aside for luck/good fortune, and spend only in an emergency… have been amazed that many have expressed that they would do that… have no clue how that went longer term.

    2. Tia Will


      Why do people want to give them a pass?  It is not helping them and it is not helping the community.”

      I do not believe that anyone wants to “give them a pass”. There are those amongst us who feel that the existence of homelessness as a manifestation of either unmanaged mental illness, or chronic poverty is a societal failure which needs to be addressed at the level of root causes, not at the level of pushing these members of our society into either incarceration or pawning them off on other communities.


        1. Tia Will

          what does it mean to not give them a pass?”

          From my point of view, what should be offered is a hand, such as the Pathways to Employment Program, not “a pass”, whatever that may mean.


        2. Sharla C.

          I had a neighbor who was mentally ill and would let out these blood curdling screams that you could hear from inside neighboring homes.   The police came, found out the person was just screaming and not hurt, and then leave.  This was brought up in the neighborhood conversation and many people were resigned to doing nothing, because the person was obviously suffering from mental illness.  However, the 5 year old child who lived next door with a common wall was horribly disturbed – terrified – by the screams.  We talked to the person’s parents and decided that we needed to call the police each and every time she started up the behavior – every time she started screaming.  Her family told her that this is what was going to happen.  She discovered that every time she misbehaved, she would get a visit from the DPD and began to have these uncontrolled outbursts less and less.  It wasn’t up to us to get involved in managing her care, but we weren’t going to just learn to tolerate her misbehavior either.   It was better for her and better for her neighbors for her to learn to manage herself.   She wasn’t “given a pass.”

    3. Michael Bisch

      Sharla, your question is misdirected. The question is why give the home-plus a pass for the very same behaviors that some of the home-less are committing?  Why penalize the one class and not the other?

      I have seen no comments about determining the downtown’s capacity to support public urinators and then “getting rid of the rest in dozens of ways”. I have seen no comments about creating a city-run camp outside the city limits for litterers. I have seen no comments about rounding up all the aggressive individuals, putting them on buses, then shipping them to West Sacramento. But there have been hundreds of such comments directed at the home-less.

      Such comments make it pretty clear that the anger and criticism is directed at a class of individuals, not at a class of behaviors.  Which begs the question, why is the home-plus class targeting the home-less class?

      1. Sharla C.

        Michael,  There has been a lot of talk about the behavior of students and others drunken and disorderly conduct in the downtown.  There have been ordinances specifically targeting this behavior passed by the City.  We’ve sent a clear message that people who come into town to get drunk, fight, vandalize, and steal are unwelcome.  The Police Chief reported a month or so ago that things are pretty quiet downtown in terms of that activity and the new ordinances are starting to have an effect.    There is still this group of people in the downtown that these ordinances do not reach and we can’t just send them home, where ever that is.

        1. Michael Bisch

          Thank you for acknowledging, Sharla, that those other ordinances that you refer to were targeted toward behavior, not toward a class of citizens.  They were not the “Student Ordinance” or the “Out-Of-Town-Visitor Ordinance”.  It is absolutely clear from the rhetoric around this particular ordinance that it is the “Home-less Ordinance”. It is targeted toward a specific class of citizens. And that’s what I and others are objecting to.

          1. Don Shor

            It seems that discussions about the homeless often turn into discussions about panhandlers (“aggressive homeless”). Not all homeless are panhandling. Not all panhandlers are homeless. Not all panhandlers are aggressive or intimidating. It seems that mental health issues pertain to a subset of the homeless population and probably have little to do with the “aggressive” panhandling that bothers people so much.

        2. Sharla C.

          Well, call it something else.  Or separate the two issues – one discussion focusing on homelessness and one discussion focusing on public health and safety issues.  There may be some people who fall into one or both of these issues.    There may be a third discussion related to mental health.

  7. Tia Will

    When you are retired (or close to retirement) and don’t have kids in town you don’t have much to worry about when saying things that people in town are not happy to hear…”

    I started participating on the Vanguard when one of my kids was still in town. I asked him first before I made any references that I felt might have implications for him to make sure that he was ok with my posting under my real name. He encouraged me to do so. He shares my belief that if you have strong convictions, you should be willing to stand by them.

    I understand that different people may have different preferences for level of privacy depending on their individual circumstances. Personally I do not choose to live my life in fear of what might ( but hasn’t) happened to me. I am glad that both of my children share this trait.

  8. David Greenwald

    One thing I checked on, what Jack describes here is felony conduct.

    this is what Darren Pytel told me: “This particular incident was not a minor case of aggressive conduct to be handled by a city code.  This was one where the person was intoxicated and very aggressive. He engaged in felony conduct.  ”. Just something to keep in mind.

  9. Tia Will

    He engaged in felony conduct.  ”. Just something to keep in mind.”

    I think that this is a very important distinction to be made. We have enacted a new ordinance which potentially encompasses relatively minor nuisance behaviors, due to the subjectivity of the nature of “aggressive behavior”  in part as a reaction to a serious crime.

    I am not at all sure that this is the most effective means forward, especially in some of the “softer” calls such as “blocking the side walk”. Will this also apply to merchant related blockage of the side walk with outdoor displays and standing signs? Or will it only apply to those who are deemed “unsightly” by the merchants who do not want them near their business?

  10. Eric Gelber

    So, will those folks with the red kettles who ask for money by aggressively assaulting my ears for weeks each year with their infernally loud bell-ringing be covered by the ordinance? Will they have to maintain a 15-foot distance from ATMs and financial institutions? I doubt it, because they’re not the targeted group.

    1. Ken A

      The only bell ringers I have seen in Davis next to red kettles were at the main Post Office and the Longs/CVS on Covell.  They were not ringing the bell very loudly (unlike the cowbell people at many local bike races and other sporting events) and were about as far from “aggressive” as you can get (a few looked like they would die of old age before they would get a chance to ring the bell again).

      1. Eric Gelber

        I asked this only half-seriously to make a point. There are many people who ask for money—for causes or nonprofits—in the downtown area. I would be surprised if any will ever be questioned or asked to change locations based on the ordinance.

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