Sadly, the epidemic of homelessness in this nation has increased, substantially, in the past few decades, for a variety of reasons. Sadder still, many individuals who live on the streets are victims of mental illness. To be clear, the majority of such folks are harmless, doing no evil to their fellow citizens, and homeless people are more often the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators of it. However, as with any population, there are bad actors mixed in. You cannot judge a book by its cover, and you often cannot tell what you are dealing with when simply encountering these people in public. Most street people who approach you will mean you no harm, but those who take advantage of this typical urban phenomenon for nefarious reasons are always possible interactions.
Dealing with homeless people, as well as the possible criminal actors on urban streets, is a standard part of big cities these days. Apparently, the citizens of such urban utopias are fine with this, as the voting patterns never seem to change, but we can leave it at that. I raise that point only to further mention that, as is not surprising, the cities most rife with threatening street people also tend to be the ones with the strictest gun control. Again, this is what the residents of such locations keep voting for, so they must be fine with it, despite the complaints. Unfortunately, the rest of us are also subjected to it when unfortunate enough to enter a big city.
The Danger of Proximity
There are, no exaggeration, areas of certain cities where you will have an interaction with a street person that approaches you to ask for something on literally every block. Again, most such interactions will be harmless, as most such street people are just looking for handouts of money that they probably quite desperately need. The danger lies in the possibility of encountering the violent criminal actor who will use the guise of this more routine form of panhandling to close distance with an intended victim. The foremost concern when dealing with such unwanted social interaction is that of proximity.
The closer an “unknown contact” is to you, the greater the possible danger, as there is less reaction time to deal with any violence that occurs, and the potential assailant has more opportunity to utilize contact weapons or simply their hands to assault. Maintaining distance is a key element of safety when dealing with such unwanted interactions. One strategy that can often prove effective is to simply move quickly and not stop. Certainly, do not run and act like you are scared, but be moving with purpose towards your destination rather than just moseying along on the street. When a street person tries to approach or begins to ask for something, a quick phrase such as “I can’t help you” as you quickly pass by is usually enough to end the interaction.
Do not get sucked into a nonsensical conversation and stop moving, as this is what both the routine panhandler and the possible criminal actor is looking for. Do not stop to react to the typical questions such folks utilize to suck you in. You will often hear, “Hey, can I ask you something,” or “Hey, you have the time,” or “Hey, you have a dollar,” etc. Simply blow past without stopping and say, “I can’t help you.”
Managing the Approach
If you are in a position where you can’t simply blow past the approaching individual, then you need to deal with the situation to avoid letting the unknown person get dangerously close. The best overall method for doing this is the well-established self-defense paradigm of “managing unknown contacts,” as established by well-known trainer Craig Douglas. While the principles have been around for a long time, Douglas really synthesized the process, and you can get trained in it either from him or a number of other endorsed instructors who teach it.
Essentially, managing the unknown contact involves issuing verbal commands to get the encroaching stranger to halt before coming within range to launch an assault. Having an understanding of unarmed combatives, particularly the skills of the non-confrontational stance and the fence, in which you keep your hands up and ready to block an incoming surprise attack, is in order. Many criminals that use the guise of homelessness and panhandling due so in order to close distance with an intended victim. You must keep your distance so as to be out of range of a surprise attack with either empty hands or a contact weapon.
A particularly useful tool for exactly such scenarios is OC Spray. The good news is that OC Spray is legal in almost all locations in the nation, even those that prohibit the carry of a firearm. There are only a handful of places that so egregiously infringe on basic human dignity that they even prohibit the carry of OC Spray. Such places love to empower criminals and keep the citizen helpless in the face of violence, but the majority of the nation, fortunately, rejects such serfdom. Even if carrying your pistol, which should always be the case whenever possible, you should carry OC Spray as well, as it offers the ability to halt an aggressive closing of distance for an assault, a situation that would not likely justify a lethal response, but certainly would justify a less-lethal tool like OC Spray.
So, in closing, when dealing with the urban environment, keep moving and do not stop to converse with panhandlers. If you can’t blow past, you need to manage the encroachment using the “managing unknown contacts” skillset, and having OC Spray ready on your person makes good sense. This is, unfortunately, the world we live in. Should you have to spend time in urban environments that foster such human degradation, stay alert and keep yourself safe.