Yes, some homeless people are straight-up crazy and potentially dangerous. Like the guy I walked by earlier on Wisconsin Avenue who wanted to pick a fight with my dog. However many are sane and there are even some who keep your parks and neighborhoods safer than they would be otherwise.
They don’t do this so much for community service but rather for the sake of their own survival. If they think they have a good thing going in their neighborhood of choice then they do what they can to keep the police out of their hair and tension with locals at a minimum. That means making sure the homeless and criminal element around them keep a low profile.
For example a guy I talk to who has lived on and off around Francis Scott Key Park in Georgetown for sixteen years told me how he did some regulating in his neighborhood. He said how a panhandler snatched a woman’s purse after she had refused to give him money. He said the cops came straight to him, suspecting that either he did it or knew who did.
My friend was understandably not pleased to be getting the extra attention from the police and told the officer interviewing him, “I don’t know who did it but when I find out I’m going to jump him.” He claims the cop replied, “If you do and I see it I won’t get in your way.”
In time word got around to him who and where the alleged purse-snatcher was. He told me: “I confronted him and told him I didn’t ever want to see him in my neighborhood again. I started kicking him down M Street. I was chasing him and I’d kick him when I’d get close enough. I was wearing my steel-toe boots. I chased him halfway across the [Key] Bridge. The last I saw he was headed into Virginia. That was weeks ago and I haven’t seen him since.”
How much is this story embellished? Probably a lot, but I’d like to believe the gist of it. It’s a nice idea, your local homeless guy keeping the streets safe. Of course the ideal outcome would’ve been the purse-snatcher getting sent to prison but maybe getting sent to Virginia is punishment enough.