Not upset enough to do anything to improve the situation. But upset enough to complain to the police – or to anyone else who would listen.
Thompson owns a café in a Harrisburg neighborhood experiencing a rare economic revival. A recently built university satellite campus and expansions to the local farmer’s market have the potential to create a new center city shopping and dining destination.
“Except for the damn bums and crazy people,” explains Thompson. “I couldn’t keep them from sitting at the outside tables and sleeping off their highs. Or wandering around jabbering to themselves. They were driving away business.”
Then last month, Thompson noticed a young, unkempt man asleep at an outdoor table. Except this time, passersby weren’t making wide circles around the storefront or crossing to the other side of the street. The difference?
“The kid was a university student. Those students dress like bums, that’s for sure. But this kid had a laptop in front of him. And an espresso cup.”
Thompson approached the Harrisburg Merchants Association with a plan to set up a collection site for outdated and broken laptop computers. The computers are then distributed to business owners to set on the tables or laps of sleeping vagrants. Eventually, other “normal people accessories” – as Thompson describes the items – were collected and distributed to the homeless people in the area.
“Last season’s messenger bags, David Sedaris books, slightly twisted Oliver Peoples eyeglass frames, reusable Starbucks cups to disguise booze. Those are visual cues that you‘re one of those hipsters, not an ordinary derelict.”
The Merchant’s Associate also collects defunct Bluetooth cell phone ear pieces for the large number of homeless people who suffer from various forms of schizophrenia and dementia.
“These guys wander around talking to themselves, screaming at invisible people. Now you can’t tell them apart from the self-absorbed jerks screaming to real people on the other end. Business is booming.”