Part 4- Hobo Informants

By: Jennifer Lawson-Zepeda

The Business of Informing

In the book, Where have all the homeless gone?: the making and unmaking of a crisis, Mr. Marcus discusses the general feeling about being a paid informant who acts homeless.

Despite the general hatred for being stereotyped and the special animus reserved for the role of the homeless and ugly, living by stereotypes was sometimes the only thing separating life and death as Franklin pointed out to me one day while telling me about role switching in prison. He had been arrested for crack dealing and decided he should play the homeless card by calling his social worker at the shelter to get someone to mediate between him, legal aid an the courts. When he first arrived in prison he became a crackhead again to avoid being victimize, then made the difficult switch back to homeless while still in prison because he owed money to someone there. He said, “I’d rather be a homeless crazy person than be that nigger’s bitch.” He later managed to be transferred to a mental health unit with often housed imprisoned homeless men.

Most of my informants hated playing the role of homeless in any situation, because it violated virtually every U.S. norm of adulthood and masculinity. The homeless person appeared passive, pathetic, dependent, uneducated, unskilled, mentally ill, desexualized, ugly and disgusting. However, as Franklin had once pointed out to me about being homeless, “it’s no worse than anything else the system makes you do. It ain’t like you gonna get any pussy at the supermarket when you give those coupons (food stamps).”

(Source: Paid informants and homeless)

A Viable Career Path?

So one wonders why some homeless people suggest this as a good source of income.

I was in a forum reading opinions on how to earn a living if one was homeless when my jaw nearly dropped. One of the long term homeless characters there was suggesting that becoming an informant, for either the police or organized crime, was a good source of income. I recall thinking to myself, ARE YOU NUTS?

Fearing the idea of receiving institutionalized assistance, such as general relief or working in soup kitchens that sometimes pay homeless people for their services, a few of the homeless have found that offering information as an informant pays for their basic necessities much better than classic assistance programs.

The fact is that the more time a person spends on the street, the more unlikely it is that this person will settle for classic wage-labor positions. It is more likely the person will find an alternative source of income. And informing has become big business in the landscape of America. It isn’t that the homeless person doesn’t want to work and earn a living. It is that the damage of living outside of the system eventually takes its toll on people who are so marginalized and they tend to distrust the system of wage-labor after being outside of it for so long. They place more faith in the forms of work they know they can draw money from:

  • collecting cans
  • donating blood
  • busking
  • soliciting donations
  • working in labor pools
  • scavenging
  • “snitching”

You will note that I placed the word, snitching, inside of quotation marks. I did this because I do not consider a person who reports criminal behavior to law enforcement as someone who is doing anything wrong. In my book, if you fear something you are doing could get you in trouble; then, don’t do it! If you do…then, don’t sweat those of us who feel we have a right to report you. And I associate the word, “snitching” with child molesters…people who know what they are doing is so hideous and disgusting that they feel a need to hide their behavior behind labeling people who report them.

That being said, I can’t imagine risking someone’s life by telling them that becoming an informant is an intelligent way to earn income. Why? Because of the danger involved. And ESPECIALLY for a person who has no house to keep them safe.

Hobo Snitches

In the communities that dot the landscape of America, these people are referred to as “hobo snitches.” That’s what they are called in the streets; it’s not my term.

There has even been a game made out of this term; where people wander into the community and tag people they consider to be hobo snitches. What a lovely source of human compassion, no?

Here is a lovely web site aimed at letting the world know that “K will kill a snitch hobo.” It’s these sorts of things that simply make humanity what it is, right folks?

This is why I wonder why ANYONE would recommend that another homeless person earn a living as an informant. Obviously, the attitude against these people is such that it can’t possibly benefit anyone who finds them self labeled as such.

Homeless Forum Advice

And I assume this is why I may have become unpopular among some in a certain homeless forum. I took issue with some of the long-term homeless in that forum telling others to become informants to earn money.

Well, I stand by that, and if it pisses off a few homeless people who have given up on standard wage positions, then so be it. Frankly, I wondered at the time if they weren’t trying to be a bit sensational.

You see, when a person gives information like this, eventually others find out who is providing the information. And that can become quite dangerous. Living as a homeless person is tough enough. They certainly don’t need bad advice.

Exploiting the Homeless

It seems to be a great past time for those who don’t understand or want to understand the plight of the homeless, to exploit them. In this article about “Calorie Commando” TV chef Juan-Carlos Cruz, Cruz has hired homeless men to murder his wife; but the men offered this information to the police, instead.

The investigation began when two homeless men told police that Cruz had approached them on the street, wanting to hire them as hitmen. Police then videotaped Cruz arranging the murder with the men and driving one of them to his Westwood condo to show him how to get in, prosecutors said.

When I was in Mexico I heard of organized crime hiring the homeless drug addicts. They paid these people $100 to use the credit cards of people they murdered, to purchase high end electronics and max the card out. Why? Because if they were caught, they were expendable.

Is this what the homeless now feel about themselves, too?

6 Comments on “Part 4- Hobo Informants”

  1. For the police who can find informants among the homeless, i can see where this would be a highly profitable venture, as they do not have to risk their detectives who are probably quite reluctant to take up such and unappetizing disguise. I say this with a bit of cynicism as our modern day cop and his belt full of arsenal, really does not like to take risks. You’ll find two or three patrol cars surrounding a vehicle for a speeding ticket, but it takes thirty minutes to answer a domestic violence call in which deadly assault might be involved. Certainly, the more disposal a person is, the more appetizing it is to place that person in a high risk situation.

    Of informants in general, i have a lot of mixed views. Informing on a crime in progress; a burglary, kidnapping, assault, etc., where intent to do harm is involved; is a good thing, which really shouldn’t even require payment award, but is rather the duty of a conscientious citizen. These aren’t really the crimes the police are interested in when they hire an informer.

    They hire informers to alert them when whenever there is a great deal of group activity around a central location. On the surface, this appears a practical way to break up drug trafficking and illicit smuggling, but with the advent of Homeland Security, it can be for anything. For instance, i work for a small, independent business. The owner, by dealing only with independent contractors, has the lowest gas prices in the state. He also has some of the best services; free small cups of coffee, free paper funnels for pouring oil into your engine, free matches and no time limit for showers. Consequently, people flock in droves to his store, undermining the prices of the large corporate services.

    This doesn’t sit very well with the corporate run state. Although the owner complies within the complete legalities of the law; he even has cameras throughout the store and has turned in video clips of people who have used stolen checks and credit cards; the police use the location as a fly trap. They crouch on or near the parking lot grounds, run license plates through their scanner, and pick up people for infractions such driving without a license or no insurance proof. The vehicles are impounded and hauled off while the violators sit in jail for a few days. Most of those whose vehicles were hauled off for lack of insurance do not reclaim their vehicles because the cost of paying the impound fees is greater than the value of the vehicle. It stands to reason; if you can’t afford insurance, you can’t really afford an expensive car. I should add here, i live in an area where bus services are poor to nonexistent, and there is absolutely no way you can go anywhere without a vehicle unless you’re damned good at walking or biking several miles.

    The business is a place where people not only shop, but hang around to gossip or watch television in the laundrymat. Some of the gossip has some intensely bitter political overtones. The corporate minded municipality doesn’t like this, either. It often sends under aged or repeat DUI offenders to buy alcohol or cigarettes. They don’t play a fair game in this situation, either. Not only is the cashier obliged to ask every person that comes in to buy alcohol, even if it’s the grandma, for ID, she must check for the red bar of “no service”, read identity cards she is not familiar with, have the customer sign contracts for identities she is dubious about, she is also responsible for identifying counterfeit identities. An infraction can mean a five thousand dollar fine and time in jail… for a set up!

    If this isn’t enough harassment, if drugs are found on one of the apprehended naughty drivers, the person is questioned about the compliance of the store owner, who is tolerant of drug users but does not use drugs himself, nor will tolerate drug trafficking on his premises if he spots a transaction in his cameras. It’s all about trying to entrap him because he is an asset to the community instead of a hindrance, which is why my opinion of the modern day informant is not very high. That… and because informing has become such an easy way to extract revenge on a neighbor. All you have to do is call the cops and say you believe there is a crime in progress. It will be enough for them to get a search warrant, bust down the neighbor’s door and ransack his home. If there’s nothing to find, he doesn’t even get an apology.

  2. @ Karlsie,

    “They hire informers to alert them when whenever there is a great deal of group activity around a central location. On the surface, this appears a practical way to break up drug trafficking and illicit smuggling, but with the advent of Homeland Security, it can be for anything.”

    You took the words out of my mouth – the snitch provides information to the state that can be used to take down resistance groups before they have much chance to do anything. Furthermore, since revolution itself is an “illegal” act and most “legitimate” forms of earning money dole out a pittance that most people can barely get by on some kind of alternative activity (one the “law” does not approve of) may have to be utilized to fund the activities of the rebels: and let’s not kid ourselves here – the established cartels aren’t seriously threatened by “law” enforcement (any attempt to remove them once and for all would result in a blood bath, which neither side of this bogus “drug war” want – the cartels want to keep selling and the state wants to keep collecting a cut of the profits…), so the “law” tends to focus its energies on upstarts that may one day make real trouble for the state.

  3. I think your obsession with ‘hobos’ might be a little unhealthy, Jennifer.

    But I look forward to next week’s pornographic edition “hobos gone wild.”

  4. It seems to me as I read through the list of ways to earn a living on the street that all of them are in fact “jobs”. If someone was hoping to escape the system and by being footloose, fancyfree and homeless, the joke is on them because it requires quite a bit of work to live no matter what you do.

    Now as for informants, I do not have any moral opinions about that. It does seem as if it is a dangerous way to make a living as one or the other of the teams you are in between will eventually kill you. Also law enforcement is not so stupid as to believe their “informants” aren’t feeding them just the information they want to know. Neither is the other side. Being undercover is hard, and using hobos is lazy. Also, if a hobo were to go to all the scuttling to stay alive by feeding information, they may as well take a shower, file for financial aid and get a law enforcement job as it pays better for the same thing.

  5. Amen Grainne! The idea of expending MORE energy to be lazy is humorous. And the idea that informants gain much from it other than a reputation is ridiculous.

    I agree with Karlsie too, that it is a citizen’s moral duty to report a crime in progress. This “snitches get stitches” campaign that was around just announced to me that a bunch of thugs were too gutless to deal with the ramifications of their crimes. Witness intimidation has always been a ploy of the nervous.

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