When I turned, driving under the freeway and into the tunnel, I saw yet another unusual sight but this one was far bleaker. Beneath the overpass, at least a dozen burly men dressed in white disposable coveralls and armed with trash bags and shovels were breaking down a long established homeless encampment. For months now, a group of quiet folk have made their homes there, and no one seemed to mind. Just yesterday, I counted more than a dozen tents and makeshift shacks. The camp was out of the way, invisible to most, and generally the ground around each campsite was kept clean and swept, belongings piled neatly and precisely. Signs at the edge of the camp read Thank you for Random Acts of Kindness. The folks who lived there would take turns standing on the corner with signs asking for small bits of money; I would see the same sign, each day held by a different pair of hands. I had begun to think of the encampment as a homeless collective, a viable alternative to overcrowded ‘shelters.’ Those who lived there seemed to be cheerfully supportive of one another.
Now, the tents were gone, the shacks razed to the ground, and men with rubber gloves and paper masks were raking the pavement, filling bags with boxes of Cheerios and granola bars, tossing abandoned sleeping bags to a waiting dump truck. No one stood on the corner; no one who had lived there watched from the sidelines. Everyone was gone. I wondered if the man I had seen struggling with the shopping cart had left before the raid, and I wondered if the paper white men felt any sadness as they tromped about in their great rubber boots, shoveling socks and cooking pots into black plastic bags destined for the landfill.