The Homeless of Irvine
There are no 99-cent stores in Irvine. There are no pigeons, but that’s probably because there are no overhead telephone cables for pigeons to perch on. There are no homeless shelters.
Jonathan Robinson, third-year philosophy and political science major, was curious about what Irvine’s reaction would be if he pretended to be homeless, so he decided to play the role of a homeless man.
Ranked the safest city and one of the cleanest cities in the United States, Irvine barely has litter along its streets, and homeless people are even less common.
Rumors circulate that the Irvine Police pick up homeless people in Irvine and take them to Santa Ana or Tustin, where they drop them off on the streets. Other rumors claim that they are taken all the way to Los Angeles. More charitable rumors say that the police bring the homeless to a nearby shelter.
When asked about the Irvine Police’s policy on homeless people, a representative said, ‘As long as they’re not doing anything illegal, we can’t do anything about it.’
Anything illegal includes, but is not limited to, urinating, using or possessing drugs, sleeping in a public park or pushing around a stolen shopping cart. If homeless people disturbed the community, the police would give them a ride to the nearest homeless shelter, which is in Santa Ana.
‘We see if they have family, get them some help.’
When asked if they pick up homeless people in Irvine and drop them off in nearby cities, the representative said, ‘Nope, that’s not legal to do.’
Despite the Irvine Police’s assurances, Frosty, a 38-year-old homeless man alleged that he was picked up by police in 2002 and dropped off at ‘city limits’ in Tustin.
‘They told me to get on my way and don’t come back to Irvine,’ Frosty said. ‘They said that if they caught me in Irvine again they were going to arrest me.’
Frosty said that when he asked the officer why he would be arrested, the response was, ‘We’ll find something.’
Frosty has not been back to Irvine since. ‘I don’t go where I’m not wanted. I don’t care.’
Albert, 27, lived and worked in Irvine before he became homeless. He was fired when his company downsized.
His rent bills went unpaid, and he had difficulties in finding a new job. Soon, he was evicted from his house, and found himself on the streets of Irvine near Walnut Street and Culver Avenue.
One night in November 2005, Albert was sleeping next to a Sav-On Drugs store with a blanket pulled halfway up his body. He said that he was awoken from his sleep at around 12:30 a.m. when a cop kicked him and told him to leave the city within an hour.
Albert asked for directions and was told to take Walnut all the way up toward Tustin.
Albert picked up his backpack and cardboard and left.
‘He didn’t even run my name,’ Albert said. ‘I would have been clean.’
Albert’s midnight journey was over three miles. In the middle of his walk, he couldn’t hold his cardboard anymore, so he trashed it.
‘I just kept walking on Walnut all the way up and over the overpass and then over Jamboree, got to Redhill Avenue, and I was tired.’
In an attempt to discern the veracity of stories like these, Robinson donned a disguise at around 4 p.m. last Feb. 23, burying his athletic build under an old, gray blanket with dull flowers.
Robinson, who is black, is known by most of his friends as ‘Black Jon.’ He is 5 feet 8 inches tall, with an almost bald head and a short mustache that slightly curves around his mouth to a small beard.
Struggling to hold his blanket, a plastic cup and a large cardboard sign reading, ‘May God Bless You,’ Robinson hunkered down on a seat not far from where Diedrich’s customers communed.
‘They’d give me just a weird look, or not the look, you know what I mean?’ Robinson said.
He passed an adjacent drycleaner and, reaching the end of the section of the plaza, turned around to walk back.
‘When I came back, [the owner of the drycleaner] ran to the door and closed it,’ Robinson said.
Another night, when Robinson was walking around Irvine’s University Town Center in his huge blanket, a boy and a girl, both around 10 years old, walked out the door of a store, and though Robinson was nowhere near them they stopped when they laid eyes on him and walked back in. A moment later, they exited holding their mother’s hands.
In another coffee shop in UTC, the eyes of a cashier widened when she was told there was a homeless person sitting on the curb outside. She leaned over the counter to get a better view.
‘Oh my,’ she said. ‘I don’t know what to do.’
She leaned over the counter again.
‘Oh my,’ she said again. ‘I don’t know what a homeless person would be doing in Irvine.’
Robinson was never picked up by police during either of his experiments. At the end of the day, he dropped his blanket, revealing a clean-cut student. He rolled up his blanket, packed his cup and cardboard, and walked toward me for an interview. Patrons of Diedrich stared in awe.